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Perspective | MC Belk Pilon delivers commencement speech at Edgecombe Community College

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John M. Belk Endowment President and Board Chair MC Belk Pilon’s remarks as written for delivery for the May 10, 2024 commencement at Edgecombe Community College.

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed faculty and staff, proud families, and most importantly, the Edgecombe Community College Class of 2024, it’s an immense honor to be here with you today. As we are gathered here to celebrate your incredible achievements, we also look forward to the bright futures that lie ahead for each of you.

My journey in education advocacy, through the lens of the John M. Belk Endowment, has shown me the undeniable power of education to transform lives. We’ve dedicated ourselves to enhancing educational outcomes and ensuring every student has access to a quality education.
This mission aligns closely with the spirit of Edgecombe Community College (ECC), which serves as a beacon of learning, opportunity, and hope in our community.

The work at the John M. Belk Endowment, including our NC Reconnect partnership with ECC and other institutions providing support resources to help adult learners return to school and enhance their skills for the benefit of themselves, their families, their communities, and all of
North Carolina, clearly and deeply resonates with the ethos of Edgecombe Community College as I and my team have witnessed in working with Dr. McLeod and the entire ECC team. Our work and these partnerships are not just about enhancing educational opportunities; they’re about building bridges to brighter futures, about removing barriers to success, and about giving every individual the chance to realize their dreams and contribute meaningfully and positively to the world we share.

I would like to take a special opportunity to talk about Edgecombe and the impact this college has had on the community and the state. In 2023, our team began working directly with ECC via the NC Reconnect program to reach out to adult learners in Tarboro and the surrounding areas with a clear message: returning to college can lead to a better skill and a better job. I am excited to report that of all the colleges we worked with in 2022, Edgecombe had the highest success rate in bringing adult learners to campus. Most importantly, some of those NC Reconnect students that enrolled last fall are here with us today, graduating only two semesters after enrolling.

MC Belk Pilon speaking to Edgecombe Community College graduates and their families. Molly Urquhart/EducationNC

Today marks a significant milestone in your lives. It symbolizes not just the end of a chapter but the beginning of countless opportunities. Your time at Edgecombe has equipped you with knowledge, skills, and values that will guide you as you navigate the complexities of the world.

As you stand on the precipice of the future, I encourage you to embrace the challenges and opportunities that come your way with the same determination and resilience you’ve shown during your time here. For those of you who are Carolina Panthers fans like me, you know that our traditional chant is “Keep Pounding,” which is led by the team at the start of each home game. The chant originated in 2004 when the late, great Panthers player and coach Sam Mills gave a pregame speech to the team about commitment, dedication, and effort.

So, as you face this next chapter in your lives, whether it is leaving home to continue your education at a four-year institution and you’re a bit nervous about that, I say to you, Keep Pounding! You are strong, you are smart, and you are prepared!

If your next step is entering the workforce and you’re a bit nervous about that first “real job,” we all say to you, Keep Pounding! You are strong, you are smart, and you are prepared!

If your next step is to start your own business as an entrepreneur and you’re nervous about that, we will also say to you, Keep Pounding! You are strong, you are smart, and you are prepared!

And if you are not quite sure what your next step is, we will say to you, Keep Pounding! You are strong, you are smart, and you are prepared for whatever comes next!

Our world is a rich tapestry of ideas, cultures, and challenges and it is ever-evolving. Your education has prepared you to contribute to this tapestry, to weave your own stories of success, innovation, and service and to do so to the beat of your own drum as you keep pounding.

Remember, the value of your education extends far beyond the knowledge you’ve gained in classrooms or the credentials you’ve earned. It’s about the person you’ve become in the process — curious, compassionate, and committed to making a difference. As you move
forward, carry these qualities with you. They will be your greatest assets as you pursue your dreams and goals.

In the journey ahead, I urge you to remain lifelong learners. The landscape of our world is constantly changing, and continuous learning is the key to adapting and thriving. Whether through formal education, professional experiences, or personal explorations, every experience is an opportunity to grow and learn.

Your success will also be defined by the impact you have on others and the world around you. Strive to be agents of positive change in your communities and beyond. Use your talents, your education, and your voice to advocate for justice, equity, community, and sustainability. The
challenges we face as a society are complex, but your education has equipped you to be part of the solutions.

MC Belk Pilon (center) with Edgecombe Community College Board of Trustees Chair Rev. Jerry Spruell, President Dr. Gregory McLeod, and faculty. Molly Urquhart/EducationNC

To the families and loved ones who have supported our graduates, your role in their achievements cannot be overstated. Your encouragement, sacrifices, and belief in their potential have been crucial to their success. Today, we celebrate not only the accomplishments of our graduates but also your unwavering support and love.

And to the faculty and staff of Edgecombe Community College, your dedication to your students’ success is truly inspiring. Thank you for your commitment to education, for inspiring our graduates to reach for the stars, and for guiding them with wisdom and kindness.

Class of 2024, as you embark on this next chapter, remember that the journey ahead is yours to define. Be bold, be courageous, and be true to yourselves. Embrace the opportunities that come your way, and don’t be afraid to pave new paths. Congratulations on your well-deserved success. Looking at you, I see that our future is bright thanks to the contributions you are sure to make. Class of 2024, Keep Pounding!

Editor’s note: The John M. Belk Endowment supports the work of EducationNC.

MC Belk Pilon

MC Belk Pilon is board chair of the John M. Belk Endowment, where she and her team are committed to increasing access to and completion of postsecondary education in order to give all citizens the chance at long-term, family-sustaining careers.