Holly Elizabeth Culpepper, left, smiles as she walks to the stage along with fellow classmates to receive her Associate of Science degree during Darton State College’s commencement at Cavalier Arena Friday night.
ALBANY, Ga. — Nnamdi Nwankwo and his friend Jerry Ngon stood patiently in their black robes, eagerly awaiting one of the biggest moments in their young lives.
Nwankwo, from Nigeria, and Ngon, from The Cameroon, were among more than 320 graduates who picked up degrees during Darton State College's 2013 Spring Commencement exercises Friday night at the college's Cavalier Arena.
"I am very excited and satisfied," Ngon, who earned an A.S. degree in Early Childhood education, said. "I have been working very hard. We did this without scholarships, and my parents had to sacrifice a lot to make tonight possible."
Ngon said he will now pursue his bachelor's degree at Albany State University.
Nwankwo, who earned his A.S. degree in pre-engineering, was happy as well as relieved.
"Right now, I am satisfied and very proud of this accomplishment; so are my parents," Nwankwo said. "I plan on transferring to Southern Poly Tech to earn my degree in mechanical engineering over there."
Some parents also picked up degrees Friday.
Leslie Okashah of Albany earned an A.S. degree in medical laboratory technology.
"All four of my kids went to college, and all got their degrees; now it's my turn," Okashah, who is in her 50s, said. "Now I want to find a job in my field. I'm not just going to let it (her degree) sit."
Just a few rows down from Okashah stood Steve Wengerd, who was picking up an A.S. degree in business.
"It was important to me to show my children if I can do it, so can they," Wengerd said. "My only regret is that my oldest, Candice, beat me to it by earning her A.S. earlier than I did."
The commencement's keynote speaker was former Albany Mayor Tommy Coleman, who attended the first classes offered by then-Albany Junior College in 1966. Coleman went on to earn his law degree at the University of Georgia and enjoyed a long career in politics before turning his attention solely to law.
"Going to school at Albany Junior College was a wonderful experience for me," Coleman told the gathering. "I think there were just 320 students total, and we enjoyed a strong sense of camaraderie because there were so few of us.
"It's hard to imagine the environment here in 1966 compared to where we are today."
Coleman urged the graduates to take advantage of what they learned academically and socially while at Darton.
"It was at this institution where I learned to accomplish goals and finish what I set out to do," Coleman said. "It is here that I learned to lead. Everyone has a turning point in their lives, and for me it happened here.
"It was here I learned we must grow where we are planted. It was here I learned to take risks. You must risk failure to reap the rewards of success. Have the courage to reach out and grab what you really want."
Coleman then reminded the newly-minted graduates that success, or failure, depends on them.
"Darton College has given you the life skills and a solid education," he said. "The rest is really up to you."