ANDERSON — Eighteen years ago Dr. Valerie Ramsey, then an accountant/fiscal analyst at Clemson University, was asked to deliver the commencement address to Tri-County Technical College’s summer graduates.
She told the Class of 1997 her personal life story and how Tri-County helped her to overcome barriers and permitted her to achieve her goals – and transformed her life.
She returned to the stage again this year, as a College Commissioner and retired chief business officer for the College of Health, Education and Human Development at Clemson University. She emphasized to the 302 graduates of the Class of 2015 the power of education and the importance of sharing their stories.
“You are the most powerful public service announcement Tri-County can have,” said Ramsey, now an adjunct professor at Southern Wesleyan University teaching adult and graduate studies courses in the school of business and the school of education.
“You are more than where you came from. Go out and make your mark,” said Ramsey, who was the first alumna in the history of the college to serve on Tri-County’s governing board and the first Tri-County Commissioner to serve on a national committee with the Association of Community College Trustees.
“Everyone has a story, but the power comes in sharing it,” said Ramsey, who was asked by the late Dr. Don Garrison, former president of Tri-County from 1971 until his retirement in 2003, to speak to the College Commission in 1997 about her journey.
“He once said that my story was the epitome of what Tri-County Technical College was all about. He made me believe that I had a story and spoke to my destiny,” she said.
“I was very ashamed of my circumstances and feared what those Commissioners would think of me. Sometimes we don’t talk about things because we fear failure. But failure is not fatal. In fact, the most wonderful thing happened when I shared it. It was like my destiny was unleashed,” she said. “It made me know that it was my struggles that gave me the strength and stamina to persevere, to aspire and to achieve. I was no longer held hostage to shame about how I was raised. I was raised in poverty, but through education, poverty was not raised in me. We are more than our environment. It shapes us but it does not control us. I appreciate my struggles because it produced my strength.”
Back in 1975, a 21-year-old Ramsey entered Tri-County’s secretarial classes through the federally-funded Comprehensive Manpower Program. She was a single parent who was looking for a chance at a better life that would one day enable her to support herself and her five-year-old daughter.
It’s not always how you start out, but how you finish, said Ramsey.
“My family’s track record in higher education at the time that I came to Tri-County (1975) was non-existent. Going to college was never considered an option and really wasn’t even discussed,” said Ramsey, an Easley native and resident.
“Looking back, I realized there were some barriers, real or imagined, that needed to be reckoned with,” she said.
She dropped out of school at age 16 to become a teenage mother. She did return, repeating the 10th grade and earning her diploma.
“I consider that one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my life,” she said. “Repeating the 10th grade was a pivotal moment in my life.”
College became an unexpected reality when friends told her about Tri-County’s Comprehensive Manpower program that provided financial assistance to eligible students.
“Our perception is our reality. The greatest barrier that I had was the one in my own mind that told me that I didn’t belong at college. It was nothing that was in my vocabulary or anything talked about in my house. It didn’t take a degree to change my life, but the degree to which my life was changed was huge,” she said.
After receiving a clerical certificate, she worked as a secretary at Clemson University for the next 10 years, and then began taking university transfer classes at Tri-County during her lunch hours and evenings.
“I knew I needed to further my education to advance in my career,” she said.
She graduated in 1988 with an associate in arts degree and later earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management from Southern Wesleyan University, followed by a master’s in Human Resource Development in 1995 from Clemson University. She earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership in Higher Education from Clemson in 2003 and a master of divinity degree at SWU in 2008.
“Woe unto me if I do not share my story. If it helps one person to get off of welfare so they can fare well, if one gets off of parole and on to payroll, if one is not locked behind jail cells but unlocks his brain cells, if one moves from minimum wage to their maximum stage, from living on the perimeter of life; from socioeconomic despair, and on the edge of poverty, it is all worth it,” she said. “Ignorance intimidates, but sharing your story liberates, and releases those it devoured, and its victims becoming empowered. My transformation not only changed me, but my daughter, and grandsons.
“Share your story with others and let them know that it is never too late to find their place at Tri-County. It does not matter where you came from, from here, you can go anywhere,” she added. “Tri-County is designed to meet you where you are and help you get to where you want to be. You won’t find another college in the nation that Tri-County cannot compete with. Faculty and staff are invested in helping you succeed, because when you succeed, the College succeeds. All of the support and nurture you need to succeed is here.”
Ramsey urged the graduates to continue to learn.
“You have set a great legacy for your children and discovered that there is more to you than where you came from,” she said.
Tri-County President Ronnie L. Booth and other college officials presented degrees, diplomas and certificates to the following:
Central: Hope Nicole Davidson, Medical Assisting; Grady Michael Delorey, General Technology – Welding; Hayden Andrew Dutschke, Associate in Arts; Niya Contessa Earle, Administrative Support; Lauren Paige Evatt, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; William Chase Gainey, Associate in Science; Adrian Hernandez, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Samantha Nicole King, Early Childhood Development; Kyle Matthew Merck, Associate in Arts; Garrett Andrew Mock, Associate in Science; Amber Leigh Newton, Practical Nursing; Ruby Mel Balanban Polas, Nursing; Pamela Kaye Stewart, Associate in Science; Trelli Ann Westbury, Associate in Arts; and Jennifer Kathryn Wood, Associate in Arts
Clemson: Renee D. Braswell, Medical Assisting; Paul David Dutkiewicz, Associate in Arts; Anna Megan Fisher, Associate in Arts; Sarah Michelle Hickey, Practical Nursing; Phillip Nathanael Jent, Associate in Science; Dillon Keith Matthews, Associate in Science; Matthew Denton Murray, Associate in Science; Mariana Christine Offik, Management; Brady Alexander Segars, Associate in Science; and Lewis Roger Teeple, III, General Technology – Mechatronics
Easley: Eugenia Suzanne Acosta, Medical Assisting; Cetera Le’Royce Alexander, Administrative Support; Rachel Bader, Associate in Arts; Jesus Bautista-Perez, General Engineering Technology; Dillon Oakley Cooper, Associate in Arts; Katelyn Breanne Corley, Practical Nursing; Lauren Brooke Dennis, Associate in Arts; Moriah Elizabeth Dodgins, Criminal Justice Technology; Chad Edward Dodson, Management; Kaitlin Marie Gibson, Associate in Science; Nicholas Chance Hall, General Technology – Mechatronics; Austin Nelson Hastings, Associate in Science; Bennett W. Hendricks, Criminal Justice Technology; Amanda Jane Hernandez, Practical Nursing; Edward Dylan Huffman, Criminal Justice Technology; Dominic Anthony Ingardia, Associate in Science; Johnna Renee Jenkins, Medical Assisting; Ryan Mckenzie Lee, Associate in Science; Summer Nicole Long, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Adam David Moore, General Technology – Mechatronics; Lionel Kennedy Owens, III, Management; Sara Renee Pettus, Veterinary Technology; Heather Lynnette Quinn, Associate in Science; Caitlin Grace Raines, Practical Nursing; Cassidy Gail Sargent, Medical Office Specialist; Katie Lee Shook, Associate in Science; Sydney Hope Stancell, Associate in Arts; Justin Michael Stumbo, General Technology – Welding; Ashley Olivia Styles, Computer Technology; Hannah Elizabeth Sutherland, Surgical Technology; and Kristin Michelle Verdin, Criminal Justice Technology
Liberty: Clint William Black, General Technology – Welding; Erica Nicole Bolding, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Corey James Bouchillon, General Technology – Welding; Kaci Ashton Cannon, Practical Nursing; Shannon Renau Carlisle, Practical Nursing; Taylor Marie Dickard, Practical Nursing; Savannah Jan Ladd, Associate in Science; Randall Shane McAlister, General Technology – Welding; Corwin Patrick Mount, General Technology – Mechatronics; Kaylin Danielle Nix, Management; Melinda Jaye Owen, Management; Crystal Dawn Posey, Surgical Technology; Adrienne Elizabeth Marie Sexton, Criminal Justice Technology; and Justin Kendrick Smith, Industrial Welding
Norris: Justin Zachary Lewis, Industrial Electronics Technology
Pendleton: Jonathan David Allen, Associate in Science; Jason Martin Anderson, Associate in Science; Charles William Burks, II, Criminal Justice Technology; Troy Jamieson Griffis, Industrial Welding; Tamekia Jo Williams Pickens, Medical Assisting; Dustin Anthony Short, Computer Technology; and Timothy Kyler Watt, Industrial Electronics Technology
Pickens: Margaret Elizabeth Bashor, General Technology – Welding; Katrina Marie Byers, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Jason L. Cassell, General Technology – Welding; Cora Elizabeth Grant, Associate in Science; Trevor Lewis Hayes, Management; Brian Curtis Masters, Heating, Ventilation and AC Technology; Stephanie Laura Mulkey, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Mary Rebecca Norris, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Haley Rebecca Phillips, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting; Quinton Everett Setzer, General Technology – Welding; and Darlene Marie Wimpey, Expanded Duty Dental Assisting
Piedmont: Michael Paul Chapman, Automotive Technology; and Jesse Ross Stowers, General Technology – Welding
Six Mile: Lauren Brittany Gray, Practical Nursing