Smiles, laughs and tears of joy filled a packed room of graduates, their family, faculty, staff, and administrators as Mitchell Community College honored over 700 graduates of associate degree, diploma and certificate programs during two Curriculum Graduation ceremonies held at the Mooresville Performing Arts on May 13.


2023 grads


“Allow this ceremony to become a part of your own personal timeline which symbolizes change and the progression to other great things in your life.” said Dr. James T. Brewer, President of Mitchell Community College. “With every ending, there is a beginning. There are so many opportunities for you and when that opportunity knocks, be sure to open the door. And if there is no door, create one for yourself. Whether you are entering into the world of work or moving on to further your education, continue to grow, to change, to evolve, to have empathy for others, to practice gratitude, to take some risks, and keep an open mind. There is no script for what lies ahead of you. It’s all for you to make. We all know that you have what it takes within you to be successful.”


At the ceremony, special recognition was given to two student awards. The President’s Award, presented to Thailee Nicole Yang, recognizes a graduating student who has one of the highest-grade point averages on all work completed at Mitchell. While pursuing her associate in arts degree, Yang has maintained a 4.0 GPA during her time at Mitchell and plans to transfer to the University of North Carolina Charlotte to pursue a bachelor's degree in marketing.  Yang is very active in the community and has volunteered her time at numerous locations such as The Dove House and Purple Heart Homes. She thanks those at Mitchell who played an important role in helping her to grow and succeed.


Thailee wins 2023 President's Award


Additionally, each year, the North Carolina Community College System honors outstanding students from the 58 community colleges in the system in the form of the Academic Excellence Award. This year’s Mitchell recipient was Ryan Rodriguez who received his Associate in Applied Science degree in Human Services Technology while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. He has also completed a certification in Human Services and Substance Abuse. Rodriguez plans to use his knowledge to become a licensed addictions counselor to help those struggling with substance abuse disorders. He attributes his college success to those at Mitchell who have encouraged him to succeed.


Rodriguez wins 2023 Academic Excellence Award


“Graduates, we want you to enjoy this day. Savor your success,” said Ralph Bentley, Chair of Mitchell’s Board of Trustees. “And encourage someone else to follow your path.”


Matt Doherty, a nationally recognized motivational speaker, best-selling author, and media personality, delivered the graduation address. Doherty shared with graduates his appreciation for community colleges and his philosophy for success.


Doherty delivers 2023 graduation address


“Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Astronaut Eileen Collins, Star Wars Director George Lucas, my wife and two of my sisters. What do they all have in common? They all attended community colleges,” shared Doherty. “I’m a big fan of community colleges. Community Colleges are a vital source of education in America. They offer tremendous value and have jumpstarted many successful stories.”


“Tom Hanks once wrote an article for the New York Times with the title: I owe it all to Community College,” continued Doherty. “Congratulations! You made a wise decision to attend Mitchell Community College. I’m excited for you as you start the next chapter in your lives. You have a great foundation for success. But it won’t be easy.”


Doherty recalled his leadership journey since being part of the 1982 National Championship team with Michael Jordan at UNC. Doherty’s professional experience includes serving as a Head Coach at Notre Dame and the UNC Tar Heels, 2001 ACC Regular Season Championship, AP National Coach of the Year in 2001, Head Coach at FAU and SMU, in addition to working with ESPN, the Indiana Pacers, and the Atlantic 10 Conference.


During his graduation address, Doherty offered words of wisdom on his three keys to success: start, fail, rebound.


Doherty used his own personal career as an example of this philosophy. After being drafted in the sixth round of the 1984 MBA Draft to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then being cut from that team, Doherty shared that he didn’t embrace failure. Not at that time.


“I was bitter. I was hurt. I was embarrassed. I loved basketball but I didn’t feel like it loved me back.”


But after four years away from the sport, Doherty found a new way to engage in his passion: coaching. Doherty began his coaching career at Davidson College but eleven years later, he became the head coach at the University of North Carolina.


“Success is never linear. It’s not a straight line. There are going to be peaks and valleys. And I often wonder if I would have made the MBA, would I have become the head coach at North Carolina? Maybe. Maybe not,” said Doherty.


Two short years later, Doherty was asked to leave because of a question of leadership.


“I failed. Again,” said Doherty. “However, this time I didn’t run from failure. I embraced it. I rebounded. I decided to get better not bitter. I went on a leadership journey to learn and grow.”


Doherty concluded his speech by sharing three “knows of leadership”: Know yourself, know your team, and know the truth. Additionally, he encouraged graduates to surround themselves with great role models, mentors and truth-tellers that will support, challenge, and mentor. 


“So, who’s on your team?” concluded Doherty. “Your life is nothing but a series of decisions and dealing with the consequences. The better decisions you make, the better your life will be. You made a great decision to attend Mitchell Community College. Congratulations on seeing it through. There are endless opportunities in front of you. You’re on your way. I wish you nothing but the best. Just remember one thing, when you’re faced with adversity: rebound.”  



graduation crowd


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