BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It’s a big two-day celebration for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College with nearly 2,500 students graduating.
The college reports 2,303 candidates receiving 3,577 credentials and degrees. Of those, 800 students are projected to graduate with honors distinction.
Earlier in the day, 206 students of the college’s allied health program received their associate of arts degrees.
It has not been easy getting to this point. Nursing student Latoya Christian knows that well.
“I’ve been a patient before. I have lupus,” she said. “So, coming from both sides of it, it lets me know that empathy and sympathy is greatly needed in the nursing field.”
Health is not the only issue for Christian. Just as she was beginning the program, her fiancé died of a massive heart attack. She wanted to drop out.
“Because at first I felt like I failed him as a person because I felt like I could have done something to save him,” Christian said. “But that really gave me the drive and the motivation to complete it because I know that he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
The ceremony included students in six disciplines in addition to nursing.
About 35 of the graduates decided to start their higher education at the same time as their high school years were ending.
“There are so many more people, we had about 20 people in my fifth grade graduation it was just my little class,” aid Samantha Holland, a Collegiate Academy graduate.
The Collegiate Academy is for high school students, and Holland is one of the youngest graduates at just 15 years old. She is receiving not one, but two associates degrees. One in art and one in science.
“Yeah I am an overachiever kind of," Holland said with a giggle. She says she tries "to be the best.”
Holland is enrolled at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus. After getting walking across the stage, Samantha is going right back to hitting the books.
“I’m finishing my junior year. My exams are coming up. It’s a good time, they are next week,” Holland said.
But once Holland knocks out her upcoming senior year, the sky is the limit...literally. She’s looking at a career in the air force.
“I’m going to go into the uniform and armed services medical school and then I’m hoping, hoping if it all works out to be a cardiothoracic surgeon,” Holland said.
The moment represents a lot.
“Two years of hard work and tears and long nights and studying,” said nursing student India Cochran.
“It’s been crazy. Nothing compared to anything that could ever happen," added Katlyn Foster, also a nursing graduate.
Joan Hendrix, associate vice president for the health science division, said the new Bryant Center at the Tradition campus has provided more resources than ever for the complex challenges of the medical field.
“Health care today is more modern,” said Hendrix. “It’s more sophisticated in the informatics part and pieces of it, but it’s still the same care and concern and compassion for individuals.”
With that, she would challenge any potential student with a simple question.
“Do you love people? If you can answer yes to that very important question, I would say health care is the field for you," Hendrix told the nursing graduates.
That may be the most important lesson of the day.
“People who go into nursing have a big heart,” Cochran said. “And we really, really love our patients.”
Foster agreed. “It’s definitely a life-changing experience to be a part of their lives and make a change," she said.
On Wednesday, nearly 170 people who completed MGCCC’s adult education program participated in graduation. The college’s graduation ceremonies ended Thursday with the main graduation, which featured 930 participating students total.
Additionally, more than 1,100 students earned degrees bur decided not to don a cap and gown to attend the commencement ceremony.