Determination and tenacity may be the best way to describe the miraculous journey to the bachelor’s degree Derrick Black is looking forward to receiving when he is among approximately 1,100- undergraduate and graduate students who will be participating in Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) 2013 commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, at 9:45 a.m., in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Nikki Giovanni, award-winning poet, essayist, novelist and educator, will serve as keynote speaker and receive an Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree.
Commencement day marks the end of a 16-year passage to a bachelor’s degree for Black that began in fall 1997. Black, 33, father of eight children ranging in ages from 3 to 19, is a full-time student who works a full-time third shift-manufacturing job from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Black’s fortitude and resolve perhaps characterizes that of a WSSU graduating class filled with faith, achievement, talent and humanity.
“I really want to be a good example for our children,” said Black. “I want to demonstrate that if I and all these people making up my graduating class can do it, then maybe they will feel they can do it too.”
To obtain his goal, Black says he had to sacrifice sleep, among a number of other things – for years. “Sleep is not usually a eight-hour luxury for me,” notes Black. “I get what sleep I can here and there, but I’m looking forward to getting some sleep after this,” said Black.
Usually after work, Black goes home to help get the children ready for school by helping get them up, dressed, book bags packed, lunches ready and then off to their various daycare, elementary, middle and high schools. He brings his youngest, who is three-years-old, to daycare on the WSSU campus at 8 a.m. From there, Black, a math major, goes to class, tries to squeeze in a nap if lucky, before doing lab studies.
“The faculty and staff on campus, especially the student support services department, have been so helpful and I can’t express how appreciative I am to them all,” Black said.
Black also received great support from his wife, Sonya Muhammad, 42, who graduated from WSSU last year. They made it possible for each other to stay on course for a bachelor’s degree despite being older students with jobs and so many children. They worked together coordinating shifts with babysitting to allow the other to go to school or work and encouraged each other. After more than 16 years, several transfers, academic major changes, relocations and life circumstances, Muhammad and Black will stand together as a shining example of teamwork, determination, responsibility, achievement — and now, as college graduates.
“We may one day figure out a business we can start together,” Black said.
An Inspiration Story
Business owners George Banks, 52, and his wife Kathleen, 49, of Kernersville, have been on the Dean’s list every semester. They will receive their bachelor degrees in business administration in just three and half years. They were also inducted into honor societies Beta Gamma Sigma and Alpha Sigma Lambda and received the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence. Their achievements are outstanding accomplishments in their own rights, but their backstory is a true inspiration and testament about character, faith and courage.
It started when the toothache George thought he had during his sophomore year turned out to be cancer at the base of his tongue. For the following two years, George endured 33 rounds of radiation treatment and chemotherapy, while not missing a class, due to “phenomenal instructors” who worked with him through homework assignments and online classes. As a part of his recovery, George was not able to eat or swallow and had limited speech for a year. He communicated by writing notes and texting.
“When he went to class, many of his classmates didn’t know he had chemo that day or was wearing a feeding tube,” Kathleen said. Still, undaunted, George continued with operating their business with his wife and not giving up on school.
“Thanks to God that was only a distraction,” Kathleen said. “Because of the experience, I can say my husband is truly an inspiration and a testament to a person who walks strong in faith everyday. His story is a testament to strength, character and courage that served as an inspiration to his family, and I hope to all of our classmates. If fact, beyond this class, I hope his story inspires many. ”
At some point while fighting cancer, attending classes, and running Monolia’s Training Academy, Inc., their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training business, the Banks decided to start, CNA Professional Support Services LLC, a new company which produced a training DVD on preparing for state certification exams. The DVD became popular in North Carolina. Guilford Technical Community College and Wake Technical Community College, the largest community college in the state, began using their training program. Shortly after that, the DVD’s popularity exploded, being now used by state exam preparation programs and courses in South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, Vermont and Rhode Island.
“God had a purpose for us and it’s been a blessing,” Kathleen said noting the key to helping make the DVD a hit was applying the skills they learned in business classes at WSSU. ”We created smart business and marketing plans that worked,” Kathleen said.
Now cancer-free, George and Kathleen were blessed even further. They recently welcomed their new triplet granddaughters.
A Mother and Daughter Day of Achievement
Barbara McCollum is very happy her daughter has a job waiting for her when she graduates, but she is even happier that she and her daughter will take part in commencement together, each receiving degrees. Barbara, a second grade teacher at North Hills elementary school, will receive her master’s in education. Her daughter, Dianna McCollum, 22, will receive her bachelor’s degree in finance.
She and her daughter are close, so it’s no surprise that were in school at the same time. But because of school, they also missed each other, even though they live together.
“Before, we used to go shopping, out to restaurants, movies, bowling together and more all the time,” said Dianna. “Now we come home and go to our bedrooms to study, so I’ll be so happy to get back to how things used to be.”
Barbara says each day closer to commencement, her excitement becomes more real. “It is starting to feel more overwhelming and I think by that day, I’ll be overcome with emotion,” she said.
Dianna said she is proud of her mother and looks forward to experiencing a life achievement event together. “It’s not often that the parent and child and can experience such an event as participating in graduation together at the same ceremony.”
Student with a Job and a Dream
Theophilus Linwood Woodley, a finance and economics major from Charlotte, has dreams of owning his own empire. If his work career becomes anything like his college career, Woodley will be successful.
A former WSSU football running back, former Mr. WSSU, and recognized student leader, Woodley is an achievement scholar, as well as a member of Omicron Delta Epsilon International Honor Society in Economics, WSSU Honor’s Program and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
Woodley earlier this year became manager for a first-ever student investment fund, a venture made possible through a gift from BB&T to the WSSU’s School of Business and Economics under the terms of the Ethical Values of Capitalism grant, which provided $50,000 in start-up funds. The goal is to provide WSSU students with first-hand experience at researching investments and grasping the concept of buying and selling a wide range of investments. Proceeds earned will help fund scholarships for future students.
Last fall, Woodley signed on with The Vanguard Group and will start his job as a client relationship associate this summer. He says this is a good first step to his plans to someday start his own financial services firm that helps people reach their financial goals personally and professionally. He also plans to tour the world, write books and participate in lecture tours speaking on finance.
“WSSU has shown me there are endless amounts of opportunity in the world,” Woodley noted. “I will never forget the many people I met and valuable lessons learned during my time here.”