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Perspective | Centering ‘community’ at Halifax Community College

The following speech was given by Dr. Patrena Benton Elliott on the occasion of her inauguration as the President of Halifax Community College. She was inspired by the song “Can’t Give Up Now” performed at the college’s 2023 graduation.

On January 1st, the privilege was bestowed upon me to come home to serve an institution that has been near and dear to my heart from childhood.

At first, I thought could this be happening to little ol’ me, the daughter of a self-educated mother, raised in the small town of Severn, next door in Northampton County.

And then I heard my mother’s voice. “Trena, never allow your circumstance, to define your destiny, you can do it!”

Then I heard the voices of my teachers, my counselors, my pastors, my community, and all I could hear is: You are somebody. You are intelligent. You are worthy. You can achieve and you will achieve.

Voices that are from individuals sitting amongst you this morning. Members of my community. It is amazing because they showed up for me 45 years ago (no need to calculate… I just turned 50, so I was 5 years old). They showed up 45 years ago and they never stopped showing up. It shouldn’t have been surprising to me that they desired to be here to celebrate this occasion. My community shaped and modeled me into the person I am today.

Why do I share this with you? It’s because I always share with our stakeholders that the most important part of our College’s name is our middle name, Community.

As we celebrate 56 years of existence, I am encouraged because Halifax Community College is just as important to our community and our state today as it was 56 years ago and because of it, “We Can’t Give Up Now.”

There is still so much work to do. There are still individuals who will turn to us to help them acquire the education that they put on hold due to life’s circumstances. Those who desire to retool to strengthen their preparedness for the workforce. There are companies that will look to the College to prepare not only their current workforce but their future employees as well. There will be families that will continue to see the value proposition of receiving that two-year transferable degree.

Over these past 56 years, there have been mountains that we have had to climb. There were battles that we had to fight. How could we expect to win if we didn’t try. We couldn’t give up! We have come far from where we started. No one told us that it would be easy. But we couldn’t give up. We didn’t give up!

As we move forward in this 2023-2024 academic year, we will do so with the theme, Believe, Achieve, Celebrate (BAC).

We will believe, as our founder and former Presidents did, that our institution continues to be a beacon of light and hope for our community. That as a major economic driver for our community, we will continue to strengthen one’s ability for educational attainment and workforce readiness.

How we will do this is by doing what we have always done and what my educators did for me… we will continue to pour into our students. Getting to know them beyond their name on the roster. Truly knowing them enables us to know when their true self didn’t show up in class that day. It makes the difference between the F they could receive or the second chance that they may deserve to receive.

Let us challenge ourselves to be in the audience when one of our former students receives career recognition. That we are the individual that they can’t wait to share the news with because of the impact that we have made in their lives.

We will arm our students with sound instruction and guidance inside and outside of the classroom. It will be something different about us that they will have to tell others. They will move mountains, push pass trials and tribulations so that they can persist and graduate. Persist and earn their credentials… multiple credentials. As a result, we will achieve increased enrollment, retention, and completion rates.

And then we will celebrate. We will celebrate each win. Our celebration will be extra special because when we Believe, Achieve, and Celebrate, it will reflect that we had each other’s BAC!

We are in this together… because we are more than a college… we are a community!

Patrena Benton Elliott

Dr. Patrena Benton Elliott is the sixth (and first female) President of Halifax Community College. Prior to this appointment, she served as Vice President and Chief Academic and Student Affairs Officer at Robeson Community
College in Lumberton, NC. Elliott earned a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.S. in Adult Education and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from North Carolina A&T State University. As a lifelong learner, she also holds Higher Education/Leadership Certificates from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Leadership Raleigh, Hampton University, and the University of North
Carolina System.