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On January 1, Halifax Community College President Patrena B. Elliott said the privilege to come home was bestowed upon her when she was named the sixth and first female leader of the institution.

That privilege she said in her inaugural address today was to serve at an institution “that has been near and dear to me from childhood.”

Her initial reaction, she told the audience as the school kicked off its 56th Founders Day, was, “Could this be happening to little old me, the daughter of a self-educated mother, raised in the small town of Severn next door in Northampton County? Then I heard my mom’s voice and then I heard my aunt’s … voice and it said, ‘Trena don’t allow your circumstance to define your destiny for your.’”

Then, she said, “I heard the voice of my teacher, my counselors, my pastors, my community and all I could hear is ‘If you are somebody, you are intelligent, you are worthy, you can achieve, you will achieve.’”

Some of the voices were those of people seated in the audience to watch the pageantry and listen to speeches before Superior Court Judge Brenda Branch administered Elliott the oath of office as her husband Stanley, also an educator, held the Bible. “It is amazing because they showed up for me 45 years ago and they never stopped showing up. It shouldn’t have been surprising to me that they decided to be here to celebrate this occasion.”

Ellliott said her community shaped and molded her into the person she is today.

She said she shared this personal information because she always shares with her stakeholders that the “most important name in our name (HCC) is community. It’s our middle name — Community.”

As the college celebrates its 56th anniversary, Elliott said, “I am encouraged because Halifax Community College is just as important to our community and our state today as it was 56 years ago.”

Said Elliott: “There is still work to do. There are still individuals who will turn to us to help them acquire their 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.”

There will be families, she said, who will continue to see the value proposition of receiving a two-year transferable degree. “Over these past 56 years there have been mountains that we’ve had to climb. There were battles that we had to fight. How could we expect to win if we didn’t even try? We couldn’t give up. We have come far from where we started. No one told us it was going to be easy, but we couldn’t give up. We didn’t give up.”

As the school moves forward in the current academic year, Elliott said, “We will do so with the theme: Believe, Achieve, Celebrate.”

Elliott said, “We will believe like our founders and former presidents did that our institution continues to be a beacon of light and hope for our community. They are the major economic driver for our community. We will continue to strengthen one’s ability for educational attainment and workforce readiness.”

How the school will do this, she said, “Is by doing what we have always done and what our educators did for me. We will continue to pour into our students, getting to know them beyond their name on a roster. Truly knowing them enables us to know when their true self didn’t show up in class today. It makes a difference between the F or the second chance they may serve.

“Let us challenge ourselves to be in the audience when our former students receive career recognition — that we are the individuals who they can’t wait to share the news with because of the impact we have made on their lives.”    

The president said, “We will arm our students with strong instruction and guidance inside and outside of the classroom. It will be something different about us that they can’t wait to tell someone. They will move mountains, they will push past trials and tribulations so that they can persist and graduate, persist and earn their credentials — multiple credentials.”

And as a result of that, she said, “We will achieve increased enrollment, retention and completion rates and then guess what we’re going to do? We will celebrate. We are going to celebrate each win. Our celebration will be extra special because when we believe, achieve, and celebrate, it will reflect that we have each other’s back.”

She said, “We’re in this together because guess what? We’re more than a college. We’re a community.”