Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will award 1,143 degrees and diplomas to graduates this year during the college’s commencement ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 11 in the U.S. Cellular Center.
A-B Tech President Dennis King, who is retiring in January 2020, will preside over the ceremony and deliver the keynote address.
A total of 1,473 degrees, diplomas, and certificates were earned by A-B Tech students during the 2018-2019 academic year. Two of those students are Timothy Hooks and Ralph Day. Hooks will be receiving a degree and diploma in Welding Technology, and has already enrolled for the fall semester to study Automotive Technology. Ralph Day will graduate with an Associate in Arts with the music pathway and will transfer to UNC Asheville.
“It was a tough road with trials and tribulations when I ended up here,” said Hooks, who is from Greensboro. “I picked the mountains because it was a fresh start.” His passion for buying and selling cars led him to the welding program at A-B Tech. He plans to use that knowledge along with what he will learn in automotive to be able to fix cars himself. He enjoys welding and building things that last.
Hooks’s bumpy road started when he was 16. “I had run-ins with the law. I was in prison for seven years. I got my GED, Microsoft certification, and a diploma through the Pathways program in prison,” he said.
Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education is a five-year, Vera Institute-led initiative that provides incentive funding and technical assistance to expand postsecondary education for currently and formerly incarcerated people. The project is unique for its emphasis on coordination between pre- and post-release programming, encouraging partnerships between officials, corrections and parole agencies, schools, employers, and service providers.
When Hooks was released, he had a choice to go to community college in Greenville, Charlotte, or Asheville. “I knew if I went to the urban cities, I would be back in the same situation. I chose what was a better atmosphere and a better chance to succeed,” he said.
Hooks enjoyed his classes at A-B Tech and credits instructor Doug Adams and chair George Keller for his success and brighter future. “It’s all about growth. It’s not about where you come from,” he said.
Day moved to Asheville from Delaware and waited a year to qualify for in-state tuition. He also received the CORE (Connecting Opportunities for Regional Excellence) Scholarship, which is a joint scholarship offered by A-B Tech and UNC Asheville to students who plan to transfer to UNC Asheville.
“Philip Cooper told me about lots of different scholarships and financial aid, and it made it much more affordable. Because I chose A-B Tech, I was able to get the CORE Scholarship,” Day said.
The CORE Scholarship Partnership provides qualified students with a full scholarship at A-B Tech to earn a two-year associate’s degree and at UNC Asheville for two years while completing a bachelor’s degree. Day was accepted into UNC Asheville’s Music Technology program after an audition and coaching by his A-B Tech music instructors. “I am into electronic music. I like to produce music and DJ. I didn’t sing before, but I had to sing and do a vocal audition. Jason DeCristofaro is a phenomenal musician. He and Rita Hayes were instrumental in me passing my audition.”
Day is excited to graduate from A-B Tech, but will have to miss Commencement because he has a job offer to work at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. The three-day electronic music festival held in mid-May attracts 135,000 people each day. He will spend two weeks building the setup for the event, three days at the event, and four days cleaning up. He also has been working with Moog Music and the Orange Peel.
While attending A-B Tech, Day joined the Minority Student Leadership Academy and attended a regional leadership conference in Atlanta. “It was really cool to be with like-minded individuals. We ultimately want to have fun, but we understand social responsibility. I am really big about that. I really enjoy having fun, but with that being said, I am a member of several disparaged groups. It’s important for us to show up and be accounted for, especially within those communities,” Day said.