Takiya Smith wanted to expand her thriving business. Jill Egbert wanted to earn a degree to better market herself to prospective employers. Jovonn Sumter wanted to prove to himself he could finish college.
All three were able to find that -- and more, they said -- in their time as students at the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Smith, Sumter and Egbert were three of the 335 graduates honored at TCL's commencement Friday at the All-Weather Training Facility on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Smith was the school's student speaker, and Sumter and Egbert are two of the class's most decorated students.
For Smith, enrolling in TCL's cosmetology program in the fall of 2011 meant an opportunity to expand her shop, Beautique Lash and Brow.
Smith opened the shop in 2010 as a specialty boutique after going to trade school, but when it began to take off, she started to look for ways to increase the services she offered.
"I wanted to expand my business and offer salon and spa services," she said. "I knew that TCL would open doors for me. I'm graduating for the first time at the age of 36, and I can show my children what a great accomplishment it is."
The college's Area Commission selected Smith to be the student speaker after she auditioned in April. Smith said that after thinking about the speech for a month, she sat down and wrote it in about 20 minutes.
"Within the hour of auditioning, they called and told me that they had unanimously selected me to be the commencement speaker," she said. "I was very excited to be able to speak and represent my class."
Her speech was about the first time she spoke in front of more than 50 people.
About 900 were in attendance Friday.
For Egbert, enrolling at TCL in the fall of 2011 was a chance to obtain a degree to help her find a job.
Egbert worked 25 years in business management in New Jersey before moving with her family to the town of Port Royal in 2009. Unable to find work in her field, Egbert enrolled in TCL in 2010 and obtained a nursing certificate.
Egbert decided to re-enroll at TCL in the fall of 2011 and work toward a business degree.
Graduating with an associate degree in business with a certificate in management, Egbert said she plans to enroll at Park University in January to obtain a bachelor's degree and is planning to start applying for management jobs.
But not before she thanks her family.
"I have two teenagers, and they're the loves of my life, along with my husband," she said. "They've been there for me, helping to support me while I've worked two jobs and gone to school. I bought them a cake to thank them for being fantastic over these two years."
Unlike Smith and Egbert, Sumter had been to college, spending two years in the mid-1990s at the University of South Carolina in Columbia -- time that "didn't go the way I had hoped."
Known as "Butch," Sumter eventually found work as a bar manager and nightclub security guard in Columbia, but an incident at work in 2007 put him on a course toward enrolling at TCL in the fall of 2010.
"It's a day I'll never forget," he said. "I ruptured the patella tendon in my right knee in an altercation while I was working."
That injury ended his time working in security. A drawn-out worker's compensation battle left Sumter worn out, and his leg never healed properly, leaving the muscles slightly atrophied, he said.
Sumter enrolled at TCL a year after moving to Hilton Head Island and later entered the industrial technologies program. Next fall, he'll have a second chance at USC, where he was accepted last week into the integrated information-technology program.
"I shed a few tears when I found out," he said. "My father passed away last summer, and he was my best friend. I know he'd be proud of me if he was still here, and I'm trying to make his memory proud."
Both Egbert and Sumter were named to the state all-academic team by Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society.
The college also presented the second annual Presidential Medallion to Fred Washington -- a longtime public official and former Beaufort County Board of Education chairman -- for his contributions to the community.
"I was humbled and shocked by (the award)," Washington said. "I asked the president after I found out, 'Are you sure it's me?'"
A Beaufort native, Washington served on the Beaufort City Council, was school board chairman for six years and was on the TCL commission for 15 years. He also served as the director of the Beaufort County Department of Social Services for 27 years.