Gaston College 2018 Graduation Stories
Show Mobile Menu

Gaston College 2018 Graduation Stories

Gaston College 2018 Graduation Stories

Every Gaston College student has a unique story to tell about their challenges and successes that brought them to graduation day 2018 Graduate female studentA total of 995 students were in the Spring 2018 class, and 854 participated in the commencement ceremony on Friday, May 11 at the Bojangles Arena, Charlotte, NC.

Some of our best and brightest graduates were first-generation college graduates, some have overcome profound personal and financial hardships, and others have followed in the family tradition of graduating from Gaston College.

We congratulate our graduates and celebrate their success!

Please take a moment to read four of our student stories. We hope it will encourage you to enroll this fall at Gaston College. Fall classes start Monday, August 20. For more information, on advising and registration, visit

Links to Success students will participate in  Gaston College 2018 commencement program

Eight students who participated in the Gaston Links to Success program, a collaboration between Gaston College and Gaston County Schools’ Department of Exceptional Children, received certificates of completion at the Gaston College commencement ceremony on group of graduate studentsFriday, May 11.

Gaston Links, which launched in 2015, is a three-year program designed to meet and challenge the educational differences of young adults with intellectual disabilities who have achieved a high school graduation certificate. The mission of the program is to prepare these young adults for work and independent living in the community.

Throughout the duration of the program, the students have attended classes, interacted with students in other College programs, been involved with the Gaston College Student Government Association (SGA), had various jobs on campus, accessed the resources available to them through the College, and enjoyed many of the events that take place there. Like mainstream students, their time at Gaston College helped them acquire skills that will help make their futures bright and promising. Each of the eight students will receive a certificate of completion in the College’s Health and Public Services Assistant Pathway. With this certificate, they will have the confidence to seek employment in specific areas of the healthcare industry and they will be equipped to provide care for others and for themselves.

The students who received their certificates were Tristan Adams, Brandon Broome, Hannah Cobb, Nathan LaCaria, Brianna O’Neal, Erin Smith, Brian Spriggs, and Ryan Yang.

The Gaston Links program is a joint effort between Gaston College and Gastogroup of graduate studentsn County Schools, and many individuals are instrumental in its implementation and administration.

Susan Neeley, MSN, RN, and a Continuing Education Instructor at Gaston College, is the primary instructor for the program. She was the Director of Health Services for Gaston County Schools from 2008 to 2015, has over 30 years of nursing experience, and is a former member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Center for Nursing. In 2015, Neeley received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, the highest honor one can receive, given to a North Carolinian for service. Other awards and recognitions include the WBTV Jefferson Community Service award, N.C. State School Nurse Administrator of the Year (2012), National Recognition NASN for Excellence in Nursing (2012), and inclusion in The Great 100-Nursing Excellence, a lifetime achievement (1992). Neeley currently serves as a Commissioner for the Town of Cramerton.

Others who are involved with Gaston Links are Terri Springer, Lead Exceptional Children (EC) Instructor with Gaston County Schools; Jodi Huffman, Coordinator of Innovative Programs and Certification Development at Gaston College; Donna Blake, Coordinator of Occupational and Continuing Education at Gaston College; Jennifer Wirt Hamrick, EC Program Facilitator with Gaston County Schools; Daniel Bledsoe, Karen Burris, Tywannia Horne Christian, and Katherine Genaro, all Job Coaches with Gaston County Schools; Lynn Haubert, EC Teacher with Gaston County Schools; and Cassandra Farmer and Keith Smith, Human Resources Development Instructors with Gaston College.

Gaston Links was developed with the vision that within three years the young adults in the program would receive training and support to gain permanent employment or volunteer positions. Among the program’s goals was that participants would increase social, communication, and self-determtwo females at tableination skills, develop relationships with non-disabled persons in their age group, and develop age-appropriate leisure and recreational skills.

The eight students who took part in the Gaston College commencement ceremony on May 11 are indicators of the program’s success. “These young men and women are changing our culture, one interaction at a time,” said Dr. Patricia Skinner, President of Gaston College. “They have proven that being differently abled should be viewed as an asset to our post-secondary education environment and the community. Many fellow Gaston College students and staff have commented that we all could benefit from the self-respect and intentional kindness Gaston Links students now model so naturally.”

Heaven Brown completes Gaston College Scholars of Global Distinction initiative

Heaven Brown, who earned her Associate of Arts degree when she graduated from Gaston College on Friday, May 11, has completed all the requirements of the College’s Scholars of Global Distinction initiative. Building friendships within diverse communities in Gaston County inspired Brown’s iHeaven Brownnterest in global issues and cultural diversity and prompted her involvement with the Gaston College Scholars of Global Distinction (GCSGD) initiative.

The GCSGD initiative is part of the NC Global Distinction program, a collaboration between North Carolina community colleges and UNC at Chapel Hill to globalize the curriculum and increase faculty and student involvement in global issues, activities, and dialogue. The Global Imprints team at Gaston College coordinates the initiative. The team comprises faculty and staff members who are committed to creating opportunities that build and enhance global awareness, inspire cultural competence, stimulate personal ethical growth, and deepen intellectual inquiry at the College as well as in the larger community. More than 20 students currently are participating in the initiative.

Brown, 20, grew up in Dallas, North Carolina. “I had been unaware of all the diverse cultures in this area,” said Brown, “and of the many hardships they often encounter. My interest in global issues and cultural diversity blossomed as I began to seek out more information about these communities in America and worldwide. I am a strong believer that becoming aware of people’s situations is the first step in helping them, so as to create solutions and raise awareness.” When she learned about the GCSGD initiative and attended some of the multicultural programs on campus, she decided she wanted to participate.

Although the Scholars of Global Distinction initiative usually takes two years to complete, Brown was determined to complete it within her remaining time at Gaston College and she fulfilled all the requirements of the initiative in just eight months. She took more than 15 credit hours of courses with a global component, such as World Religions, Sociology, and World Civilizations. To meet the other requirements of the initiative, Brown attended eight international activities and dialogue events hosted by various organizations within Gaston College and wrote reflection essays highlighting the most important aspects of the events and how they increased her global competency.

The initiative also requires that its participants study abroad or complete 30 hours of a domestic intercultural experience project. Brown chose to volunteer with refugee youth through the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte (CCDC). She intends to continue volunteering with CCDC after graduating from Gaston College and may pursue her bachelor’s degree in International Studies. “Having completed the Scholars of Global Distinction initiative,” she said, “I have recognized my desire to help people and have discovered my interest in global issues. Working with ‘my girls’ at CCDC opened my eyes to all the privileges I have enjoyed. Dedicating myself to a life of service will make me feel worthy of those privileges.”

“As Heaven’s advisor for the Scholars of Global Distinction initiative, it has been heartwarming to see her become more understanding, compassionate, and empathetic of people of other cultures,” said Deborah Neuman, Instructor of Foreign Language.  “Her zeal to reach out to immigrants has been especially obvious in her service-learning project through the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.”

Along with Neuman, Brian Bookout, Instructor of History and Sociology and Chair of the Global Imprints Team, worked closely with Brown as she participated in the GCSGD initiative. “I have also nominated Heaven for the Associate in Arts Outstanding Student Award,” he said. “Heaven is an outstanding student and those who have taught her have witnessed a massive change in her outlook on life and people. She now feels service to others is her calling and is planning on majoring in International Studies. She worked tirelessly to complete the GCSGD initiative requirements, which are substantial, in eight months rather than the usual two years. At every presentation she made, she stood out in the discussions for her comments and insight which always had the capacity to inspire further discussion.”

On April 26, Brown embarked on her first international trip—a visit to Italy. “This amazing opportunity to travel abroad came from a sales competition my mother won,” Brown said. “We are lucky enough to have a guide who is a native of Italy, and our group will be visiting a vast array of locations, including medieval hilltop cities, ancient towns, and many popular tourist sites. Ten days of food, history, and art await us, and I cannot fully express my excitement!” 

For more information about Global Imprints and the Gaston College Scholars of Global Distinction, contact Deborah Neuman at 704-922-6238 or, or Brian Bookout at 704-922-6342 or


Brandon Hunt graduates from Gaston College with a Broadcasting and Production degree and a promising career in the field

When he graduated from Gaston College on May 11, Brandon Hunt received his associate degree in Broadcasting Production Technology. His career in that field, however, is already underway. Hunt is the founder and owner of B Legend Productions, which specializes in videography, photography, video editing, and audio engineering. He started the company in the summer of 2017.

Brandon HuntHunt, a native of Shelby, North Carolina, graduated from Shelby High School in 2008 and joined the military. He served in the Marine Corps until 2014 and then went into the Army. After his 2016 release from the military, he enrolled in Cleveland Community College to continue his education. He switched to the Broadcasting and Production Technology program at Gaston College in January 2017.

A knee injury he had suffered while serving in the military required surgery in November 2017. After time away from school to recuperate from the surgery, Hunt resumed his studies as quickly as possible and was able to get back to his normal routine. Coursework, tutoring other students in the program, and helping to raise two sons have all kept him busy, but devoting time to building B Legend Productions is also a priority. The company has provided services for weddings, events, music videos, and other assignments. For some jobs, Hunt uses a drone to capture a bird’s- eye view of the activity. His work has been well-received. “His professionalism was above and beyond,” said one client. “I will be using him for any future events that I may have.”

Hunt credits Gaston College for helping him learn more about his chosen profession. He is especially grateful for the support he has received from Gaston College faculty and staff members Lafouji Alexander, Instructor of Audio Engineering; Nick Cable, Adjunct Broadcasting Instructor; Kate Carmody, Broadcasting Production Technology Program Coordinator; Rick Stevens, Broadcasting and Production Lab Assistant; Darren Stewart, Veterans Affairs and Financial Aid Specialist; Santoria Harris, volunteer at Gaston College radio station WSGE and professional photographer; and fellow students Nick Black, Sylina Black, and Robert Darty. “Brandon is an extreme go-getter,” said Carmody. “He takes every opportunity he can to work on his craft and grow his connections and he has a very positive attitude.”

After graduation, Hunt intends to continue to focus on his business and also to attend a four-year college to expand his knowledge and perfect his craft. “Gaston College has been an amazing experience,” said Hunt. “Everybody helps you by pointing you in the right direction. They gave me the knowledge to help me start my business.” Hunt’s goal is to grow his company so he can work for people who are famous and one day “B Legend.”

For information about the Gaston College Broadcasting and Production Technology program, contact Kate Carmody at or 704-922-2388.

Gaston College graduate David J. Girsch surmounted obstacles to earn two degrees

Among the students in the Gaston College 2018 graduating class was David J. Girsch, a veteran who has fought battles both in combat and in his personal life. Girsch was a dual major and earned an Associate of Applied Science and Associate in General Education degrees.

A native of New York State, Girsch dropped out of high school in 1987 when he was three-quarters David Girschof the way through his senior year. A few factors went into that decision. Since childhood, he had dealt with dyslexia and problems with multi-part mathematical computations, and the special accommodations that were to be provided to assist him with those issues never materialized. In fact, he was never identified officially as a learning disabled student and he grew frustrated at not getting the extra help he needed. Compounding those circumstances, his family fell upon financial hardship and Girsch opted to leave high school and get a job to help support them.

Girsch entered the military in 1991, after the first Gulf War started. While in the military, he had the opportunity to pursue his GED and he achieved that goal in 1997. Girsch served on active duty in the U.S. Army for 11 years, and then he transferred to the North Carolina Air National Guard and served another 11 years. During the first Gulf War, he participated in Operation Provide Comfort and in Operation Enduring Freedom, and he directly supported Operation Iraqi Freedom from a base outside of Iraq. In total, he deployed in combat operations 11 times during his service career, having sought out and volunteered for 10 of those assignments. “I knew in my heart that I was destined to be a soldier,” he said. “I just wanted to protect the people and things I loved most in the world from harm’s way.”

Girsch enrolled in Gaston College in 2015, after his stint with the N.C. Air National Guard ended. Since that time he has worked diligently at his studies and has succeeded despite his learning difficulties. He also tutors other students in the Gaston College Learning Center, helping them with World History I, Microbiology, and Biology 111 and 112. “I got involved with tutoring to help others who may be in peril of falling through the cracks like I did all those years ago,” he said. “My struggles with dyslexia give me a unique insight into how to help people who need it. I am so proud of each and every one of my students, especially when they tell me they passed with flying colors the course we were working on.”

Girsch will be attending Belmont Abbey College in the fall, and he plans to be a dual major there as well. He will major in History with a minor in medieval studies, and in Catholic Education with a minor in theology. His goal is to teach history. “While a good deal of emphasis is being placed on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] studies, I think it is important that we recognize the contributions of history and that we learn from its lessons,” he said. “Furthermore, I want to teach young people to be critical thinkers and not immediately buy into something without examining it from all sides.”

When asked about the support and encouragement he received at Gaston College, Girsch was eager to recognize many individuals. “Bill Burgin [Program Coordinator and Instructor of Mathematics], Chris Standridge [Math Lab], Cherry Deal [Chair of Developmental Education and Instructor of Developmental Math], and Jami McSwain [Instructor of Developmental Math] collectively managed to get me through my math coursework with me kicking and screaming along the way,” he said. “Another great influence was Cliff Grimsley, my microbiology professor, who really opened my eyes to the world unseen. His professional commitment to excellence, while carefully tinged with humor, are a shining example of the type of teacher I would like to be.”

Girsch was especially effusive in his praise of Susan Whittemore, Instructor of Biology. “Hands down, my biggest cheerleader, mentor and friend has been Susan Whittemore,” he said. “She is also an excellent example of professionalism and attention to detail. She really cares for all of her students on a level that most people cannot fathom. Since we first met, she has been a mentor to me, my sounding board, and the person who keeps me on track in both my academics and career goals.”

Whittemore is equally enthusiastic in her praise of Girsch. “David is one of the hardest working students I have ever known,” she said. “He worked on a major research project for BIO 111, putting in over 30 additional hours above and beyond what was necessary for the course. Although I have several students that do this, he has been by far the most dedicated. He also worked on setting up a small aquaculture research project over one summer and fall. It was a scientific endeavor that he wanted to pursue and his hard work on this project will now allow me to add additional research opportunities for future Biology students. He has been completely dedicated to reaching his goal of obtaining an associate’s degree and I have no doubt that he will be a successful transfer student and obtain a bachelor’s degree in the future.”

Gaston College has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for Girsch. “I think that Gaston College is truly something special,” he said. “I chose Gaston for a few reasons—first was its location. I needed a school that was close to my home and Gaston College fit the bill perfectly. Several friends are alumni and spoke glowingly of the faculty. I have encountered so many wonderful professors and instructors during my time here that it makes me sad to leave. I will always have fond memories of my time at Gaston.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email