Student speaker Gabriel Baker told the Technical College of the Lowcountry's Class of 2011 to take a moment and pat themselves on the back.
"You've earned it," he said. "But don't take too much time off."
Now is the time to set high goals and begin achieving the dreams that led you to continue your education, said Baker, who graduated with an associate degree in computer technology.
"Don't be one of those people with your greatness untapped," he urged. "You owe it to yourself to step it up a notch."
TCL, the fastest-growing of South Carolina's 16 technical colleges, on Friday honored its largest graduating class ever at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island All-Weather Training Facility: 387 students earned degrees, diplomas and certificates in arts and sciences, business technologies, health sciences and industrial technologies.
Hilton Head Island resident Arthur Brown, a retired four-star general and chairman of the college's commission, delivered the commencement address. Brown also is a member and former chairman of the TCL Foundation, which establishes private sector support for the college through grants and gifts.
He gave advice influenced by 36 years of service in the U.S. Army:
"As you leave this hall, you need to reflect on your own feelings and your desires," he said. "The world out there is waiting and (it) need(s) your brains and your energy. Give them freely, but try to stay conscious of what it is you're giving of yourself and why."
Natesha Hyde, 34, graduated with an associate degree in nursing and earned the college's Student of the Year Award. She already has a bachelor's degree in retail management but decided to pursue a career in nursing after working in logistics and as a paralegal.
"I wanted to do something that made me feel good at the end of the day, that made me feel like I had really accomplished something and made a difference," she said.
Hyde plans to take her licensing exam at the end of the month and get a job at a local hospital.
"It's hard to believe this day is here," she said. "It couldn't get here fast enough and now we're here. We made it."