Southeast Arkansas College 2011 fall graduates heard about the importance of the degrees they were receiving at the Pine Bluff Convention Center Friday night.

Southeast Arkansas College 2011 fall graduates heard about the importance of the degrees they were receiving at the Pine Bluff Convention Center Friday night.

SEARK President Stephen Hilterbran commended the graduates for their achievements.

“I am delighted that we have 308 students graduating this fall with associates degrees, technical certificates and certificates of proficiency,” Hilterbran said. “I want to personally extend my congratulations and want to pay tribute to the friends and family members who gave so much to contribute to the success of these graduates.”

Hilterbran introduced the speaker Diann Williams, SEARK vice president for assessment/nursing and allied health and an alumnus of SEARK’s predecessor, Pines Vocational Technical School.

“She has come a long way since then (her own graduation.) She is very passionate about helping students succeed and knows how important this degree is to your future success,” he said.

Williams said she wanted to encourage graduates and them give a boost to their futures.

“Consider the seriousness of this event,” Williams said. “There is a castle in southern England that has been there for more than 1,000 years they say. It had two things going for it which were its lofty position atop a small mountain and the strong walls that it possessed. It was impenetrable to aggressors and kept those inside safe from outside attacks.”

“Similarly, your education has afforded you the opportunity to erect walls that provide you with excellent control over your lives,” Williams said.

She then compared her life growing up in Pine Bluff to the “best of times” and “worst of times” as written in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

“Growing up I was raised in a large family in Pine Bluff where we did not have lots of extra things but all that we needed was provided for us. My nine siblings and I grew up with both parents. Dad worked at the Pine Bluff Arsenal. Anyone who has lived in Pine Bluff for any length of time knows about the destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile out at the arsenal. My dad was one of those brave men who stored those chemicals in those igloos. One winter dad came home with sores all over because he was accidentally sprayed with mustard gas.”

“Mom was also great,” Williams said. “She was a housewife who populated our family and nurtured our family. Our family situation contributed to my strong sense of confidence along with a strength. Pine Bluff was a very different place when I was growing up but people valued their access to education.”

Learning was fun for her even if it was not always equal, she said referring to obtaining an education during segregation.

“Graduates, your teachers are here and they guided you,” Williams said. “In your future years you will come to hold fond memories of the teachers who affected your life. Your dreams and desires have placed you atop your own mountain. Pine Bluff had a vocational institution when I was growing up, Pines Vo Tech, which became Southeast Arkansas College. I had always wanted to be a nurse to be able to help people but also because I really liked those white uniforms and those caps. Money was not easy to come by at that time and tuition was $91 per semester.”

“We had our graduation at Wesley Memorial Church and I sat where you all sit this evening,” Williams said. “I later earned my B.S. in Nursing from UAPB and my success was due to the time I spent at Pines Vo Tech. I completed my Master’s in Nursing in St. Louis thanks to a $91 investment in my future. Who would have thought that a $91 investment would lead to what it did.”

“You here are like that 1,000 year old castle,” Williams said. “You have withstood the challenges and persevered and headed off foes. Now it is your time. Congratulations on your success. As you leave do so with the confidence that you can succeed and climb every rung that leads up to your success.”