Father, Son set to graduate, earn associates degrees from RCC
This week more than 300 students are set to walk across the stage to become official graduates of Robeson Community College, but for one family from Rowland, it will be double the joy.
Although they didn’t plan it to happen this way, this Wednesday May 11, Heath Graham and his son Cameron Graham will both graduate from Robeson Community College. Heath, who is 50 years old, will receive an associate’s degree in criminal justice, while Cameron, age 19, will receive an associate of science degree.
Cameron is dually enrolled in the RCC Early College and RCC. He started his college journey 5 years ago and had no idea that on his graduation day, his father would be right there alongside with him.
“I feel really proud of my Dad for finishing what he started a long time ago,” said Cameron. “It’s more important for him to graduate in my opinion.”
“I don’t necessarily agree with that,” said Heath as he laughed. “Now, I will be proud when they call my son’s name and he walks across that stage, because he’s had a longer journey, though my journey might have been a little tougher because I’ve been out of school so long.”
Heath had completed basic law enforcement training at RCC in December 2007 and immediately started working with the Lumberton Police Department in January 2008.
“I had always respected law enforcement, and I kind of liked that thought of being able to help people, stopping crimes, I have a heart for people, and I’m a good listener, and about 75% of law enforcement is listening,” he stated.
Becoming a police officer, Heath says was not about the money, but more about creating a better life for his family.
“I was looking for something more stable,” Heath said. “I used to work in construction hanging sheetrock. It was a day-by-day, week-by-week kind of thing with no benefits, so you never knew when someone would call and say hey, we got work.”
Heath has been with the force for 15 years now and says, “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” and that’s why he decided to continue in that field with his education.
“My wife kept pushing me… I knew the deadline to enroll was coming up so I just said ‘go for it’ of course, I had to get someone to help me get registered and those kinds of things done, and when my wife got home, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, I’ve registered for RCC’ and she’s like ‘What? I’m so proud of you!”
“I just made a big leap into the unknown,” said Heath. “It was a big step forward.”
But returning to school after more than 25 years came with its challenges.
“I was computer illiterate so to speak,” said Heath. “That was another driving force for why I wanted to go back and get a degree because I knew it would force me to learn the things I didn’t know.”
“It’s kind of funny now that I look back, but I didn’t know what Times News Roman was. I didn’t know what 12-point font was and then they were telling us in class you had to do this in Times News Roman in 12-point font and I’m sitting there looking like, ‘what are you talking about? It was like another language.”
“I never had to learn any of that, so when they started talking about that, I kind of panicked and I got out of the class because I had no idea,” said Heath. “But after that let down of withdrawing from the class, I was like OK, you need to do this, and that’s the reason I’m here today.”
“I’m somewhat proud, but somewhat disappointed that it took me this long to decide to go back to school,” said Heath. “Being proud of Cameron overshadows me being proud of myself. He’s already ahead of me and I hope he continues on that path. I want him to do better than me.”
Cameron chose to attend RCC to take advantage of the opportunities through the Early College on campus.
“My brother went here and my Mom worked at the Early College,” said Cameron. “It was cheaper this way for me to attend here and then go off to college so it wouldn’t be a burden on my family so much.”
“It was a better path,” his father says.
It is also where his love of science was reinforced.
“The biology classes were very important to me, especially using like microscopes,” said Cameron. “That was one of my favorite parts of class.”
Cameron says that he plans on transferring to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, majoring in his favorite subject – biology – following in his mother’s footsteps.
“Biology is something that I’m naturally really good at,” said Cameron. “My Mom was a biology teacher, so it was pretty helpful to have someone to go to if I had a question”
“I might double major in Biology and Forensics Science, but I will have to see about that,” said Cameron. “I want to work in a lab and become a forensics specialist.”
Cameron says the driving force behind his education was his Mother.
“My Mom was constantly pushing me and my brothers to go to school,” said Cameron. “I’m just glad that I’ve finally made it to this milestone before I go to a 4-year school. It has been a long time coming, I’ve been counting the days ever since high school started.”
Cameron says that the choice to attend the Early College was one of the best decisions he could have made, but there were growing pains along the way, as the subject matter stretched him and his abilities.
“At times it was very stressful,” said Cameron. “The Early College can be a lot to handle at once. It is not for the faint at heart, but it is worth it in the end. Especially when you walk across that stage, that’s why it’s a very important moment for most of us.”
Cameron will have two graduation ceremonies to attend, one to receive his associates degree and another later in the month to receive his high school diploma.
“The high school graduation will be the most fulfilling to me because it was the hardest to complete.”
Looking to the future
Cameron and Heath both say the experience of attending college at the same time and now graduating together has brought them closer together. They have made memories to last a lifetime, like when Heath needed help with Statistics.
“That stuff is hard,” said Heath. “He had to sit down and kind of walk me through some of those statistics.”
“I never took the class,” laughed Cameron. “I learned it on the fly. I learned it when he learned it.”
“He’s faster at figuring things out,” his father pointed out.
Cameron says that he will miss RCC.
“RCC is comforting because the teachers are always here for you. RCC is always here for you.”
Heath says he will miss RCC too, but after attending school for 3 years, he’s looking forward to having a chance to spend more time at home with his family.
“It’s been a good experience,” said Heath.
After graduation, Heath says his wife is planning on taking them all out for lunch with the rest of the family to celebrate their accomplishments. They even have a family get together planned this weekend where they can just have fun and be free of homework, research papers, schedules, email, Times News Roman, and 12-point fonts.