ALBANY — More that 1,000 newly-minted graduates picked up degrees, diplomas and certificates as Albany Technical College held its Spring 2016 Commencement Exercise Thursday night at the Albany Civic Center. More than 120 associate’s degrees, 300 diplomas and 750 candidates’ technical certificates of credit were awarded.

Among the list of graduates was Evelyn Jenkins, one of five finalists for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) competition held in February. After almost three years of being unemployed, Jenkins knew she had to reinvent herself but wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

“After praying and asking God what He wanted me to do, days later I heard two words — Culinary Arts,” Jenkins said.

She began to seek information about the field, which led her to Albany Tech. She had graduated from the college11 years ago with honors and remembered the doors that technical education opened for her. She said she knew she had to come back to tackle her new journey.

“It’s been an awesome journey for me. I am elated and feel like I am literally floating,” Jenkins said. “On this journey, there have been times when I have pulled aside to acknowledge that if it had not been for the Lord on my side, I would not have made it. I wanted to quit several times and just throw in the towel, but I remembered that I could do this and strength would come.”

Another notable Thursday graduate was Norman Stringer, who was also one of the five finalists in the GOAL competition. Stringer was enrolled in the Electronics Technology program at Albany Tech and credits technical education with giving him the solid foundation needed to help him climb the career ladder.

“I feel as though technical education is a very versatile type of education that has well-prepared me, whether I decide to continue on at a four-year institution or enter the work force now,” said Stringer.

The commencement speaker for the ceremony was Gretchen Corbin, commissioner for the Technical College System of Georgia. Sworn in as commissioner in January of 2015, Corbin oversees the state’s 22 technical colleges, including Albany Tech.

Prior to the ceremony, Corbin said the greatest opportunity for the state’s technical colleges was meeting the demand of Georgia’s businesses.

“We have to make sure we provide the curriculum needed by Georgia’s companies as well as making sure we are providing the best education to provide the strongest students for Georgia’s work force,” Corbin said. “I think that is one of the strengths of the technical college system. All of our colleges can move quickly to meet the needs of our Georgia companies. In a world where everything is changing, we have to keep our focus on what’s most important to our mission, and that’s creating a strong work force for Georgia.”

In the past several years, the TCSG has been focusing on dual enrollment of high school students as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Move On When Ready initiative, and Corbin has been pleased with the results.

“It’s working well; our Move On When Ready program is life-changing. It’s the greatest change in education we’ve seen in a long time, by providing the opportunity for a high school student to graduate high school with as many as two years of college credit is pretty significant,” Corbin said. “It’s significant in that it allows the high school student to work at his or her pace and earn two years of college credit without having to pay college tuition.”

Thursday night, 113 Move On When Ready high school students graduated from ATC.

Corbin said one of the biggest challenges the TCSG faces is selling the importance of the state’s parents to understand the value of a technical college education.

“There is great value in technical education,” she said. “All of our technical colleges have grown. We came out of the high school system, went into vocational education, then we were trade schools and now we are accredited technical colleges. If I could snap my fingers, I would hope all Georgians would understand that their local technical college really has something for everyone.”

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Writer with The Albany Herald.

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