PCC Holds Graduation May 9 to Celebrate Class of ’23

PCC graduate celebrating while looking back at family after picking up his academic credential.


GREENVILLE—Members of Pitt Community College’s Class of 2023 put the finishing touches on a job well done by turning their tassels at the conclusion of Tuesday’s graduation ceremony in East Carolina University’s Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

More than 500 members of the 760-member graduating class participated in the ceremony, which began with PCC President Lawrence Rouse welcoming family, friends and local dignitaries to the crowded arena. Rouse then told this year’s graduates, “You have earned the right to be a part of this noble Pitt Community College tradition, and I am proud to welcome you in a few minutes as PCC alumni.”

PCC Student Government Association President Tahira Gatson, a member of the graduating class, served as commencement speaker. The Texas native and former U.S. Marine offered her fellow grads words of encouragement and sage advice, urging them to think about how they’ve dared to persevere and achieve and challenging them to continue “pushing the boundary of discovering who you are” in the years ahead.

“… Take risks,” she said. “Set goals and go after everything you deserve.”

Though Gatson said today’s world was brimming with “enormous changes and challenges,” she said those difficulties represented tremendous opportunities for growth. She reminded her classmates that “no one is immune to hardships” and there would be times when they felt as if they had failed at something.

“This is part of life, and it is normal,” Gatson said. “Failure serves as a mirror. It reflects to you a powerful lesson to be learned about yourself and your situation. As you peer at that reflection, do not think, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ [Ask instead], ‘Why is this happening for me?’ Because through it all, a new opportunity is waiting for you.”

An IT: Computer Programming and Development graduate, Gatson excelled in the classroom and on campus during her two years at Pitt. She says she is planning to transfer to a four-year university and ultimately find a career within the law and public administration sector, in order to pursue “advocacy for all.”

Among this year’s graduates were many remarkable stories of success. Christopher Williams, a military veteran, earned an associate degree in Emergency Medical Science, saying he “really wanted to make a difference” in his community as a first responder. Martin Zelenka, a baseball player from the Czech Republic, maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout his two years as Bulldog student-athlete to earn a college transfer degree.

From the Associate Degree Nursing program, there was Caitlin Shirley, an opera singer with three young children, who completed the curriculum. Aaron Brinn, a 44-year-old former bartender, car salesman and Advance Auto delivery driver with five kids, followed in the footsteps of his brother and sister by completing an associate degree in nursing.

There were several married couples in the graduating class, including Clifton Jones and his wife, Chenequa, who earned associate degrees in Criminal Justice Technology. Kenyance and Vanmetrice Duggins, who have three children, completed associate degrees in Entrepreneurship and Nursing, respectively.

In addition to celebrating the Class of 2023’s many achievements, graduation was also an opportunity for PCC to pay tribute to former Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Services Thomas E. Gould, who died unexpectedly in February at age 61. During the ceremony, the PCC Chorale performed one of Gould’s favorite songs — Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are a-Changin’.”

Later in the program, Farmville’s Shawn and Nickie Foster walked across the stage to accept an honorary Associate in General Education degree in their daughter Abby’s memory. Abby Foster was 18 years old and had just completed her freshman season with the PCC softball team when she and three of her friends died in 2021 car wreck.