This weekend, Sampson Community College hosted two days full of graduation celebrations and ceremonies. Included in the weekend were traditional pinning ceremonies for Health Programs graduates and four “Turning the Tassel” Ceremonies — drive-thru ceremonies for graduates and their families to attend. Despite the tradition that was lost, an enjoyable and intimate ceremony was gained.

SCC Student Services planned every minute, ensuring graduates had an optimal experience at the drive-thru ceremony. Students entered at the entrance of Clinton Community Church, where greeters from SCC Student Services helped graduates check-in. There, they received a program, a number for their car, and a number with their information to give to the speaker. From there, students were directed by Basic Law Enforcement Training students throughout campus until they reached the stage.

Prior to arriving at the “Turning the Tassel” ceremony, graduates received an SCC Graduate mask via mail.

President Bill Starling says the experience, though different, allowed the College’s faculty and staff to celebrate with students, something that is often lost in the typical pomp and circumstance.

“The graduation format allowed for more time with each student and the opportunity to see the support of family members. In many ways, this graduation felt more celebratory than others. It provided those of us who participated an affirmation of what SCC is about,” Starling remarked. “I was happy we were able to provide some way to recognize students that provided an opportunity for families to be a part of their moment.”

Cars lined up at the stage waiting for the ceremony to begin. Cones maintained a barrier between cars and SCC faculty.

At the stage, SCC Division Chairs called the names of students, and SCC President, Dr. Bill Starling, engaged with each student as they received their diploma. Students were greeted by members of the SCC Board of Trustees and the Administrative team as they made their exit from the stage. Finally, students had the option of participating in photo opportunities before departing campus. 

Help came in different forms from all across SCC’s campus. Fifteen Basic Law Enforcement Training recruits assisted Campus Security Officer, Darryl Grady, with traffic control. Barricades came in the form of cones borrowed from the Emergency Medical Science and Truck Driver Training programs. The SCC Foundation donated ferns for the stage decorations.

With capacity restrictions still changing and not yet at 100 percent, Billie Jo Pittman, SCC Registrar, says her department had to get inventive when it came to planning graduation.

SCC Student Services limited graduates to one vehicle. Families pushed that rule to its limits, including a 15-passenger van.

“We had to be creative in hopes of making a memorable event for our graduates. At a formal graduation, graduates would have the comradery of others that added excitement to the event. What was lost was replaced by each graduate having their personal celebration and with their families each privileged to a front-row seat,” Pittman commented.

The celebration continued Monday, with the school releasing a “Virtual Graduation Celebration” video, mainly for students unable to attend the weekend’s drive-thru ceremony. Students submitted photos and SCC Division Chairs called students’ names and degrees earned. Overall, the College hoped to make the graduation ceremonies accessible to as many students as possible, even if it was a step away from the traditional ceremony.

Blair Hairr, who recently made the move to Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, says seeing the graduation ceremony play out in this new way was exciting for students and staff alike. Hairr says there will be several takeaways from the weekend.

“Last weekend’s graduation celebrations were memorable, to say the least. Graduates were excited and families were proud – that’s what it’s all about. There are pros and cons to each type of ceremony, formal or non-formal, but it is our hope that each graduate felt recognized and celebrated for academic achievements this year,” Hairr remarked.

One family used the one-vehicle rule to bring a limousine too large to fit through the ceremony parking lot.

The College held four of the “Turning the Tassel” ceremonies, hoping to decrease wait times if the maximum number of graduates participated. Fall 2020 and Spring and Summer 2021 graduates were invited to participate in the weekend’s events. At the end of the weekend, 141 graduates participated in drive-thru ceremonies.

Along with Pittman, Records Specialist, Carlie McPhail, headed up the graduation planning efforts. She says it was an accomplishment to see the event come to fruition after months of planning.

“We worked diligently to provide a special celebration to honor our students who worked so hard to achieve such a high honor of graduation, while still abiding by the COVID-19 restrictions. My hope is that all graduates who participated felt proud and celebrated while walking across the stage,” McPhail stated.

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About Sampson Community College: Sampson Community College is a member of the North Carolina Community College System, located in Clinton, NC in Sampson County. The college offers many programs to include two-year degrees, college transfer, continuing education and workforce development options, and early college education.