When the Northeast Alabama Community College 2014 graduates crossed the stage to get their diplomas recently, no one beamed with more pride than Peatra Payton.
Alongside her was her husband, Anthony, and daughter, Rhonda, who all received Associate in Applied Science Degrees with high honors as Summa Cum Laude graduates.
Peatra, Anthony and Rhonda Payton, of Paint Rock, will always remember their college graduation night and their journey that began in May 2012.
“My husband and daughter were employed at the same company,” said Peatra. “When that company closed, they visited the Career Center. They were told they could get WIA (Workforce Investment Act) assistance to attend college and they chose Northeast.”
That sparked an old desire in Peatra, who as a homemaker, mother of four and caretaker to parents, always wanted to go to college.
“When my husband and daughter decided to go back to school, I thought so will I,” said Peatra. “Northeast was the best place for us. It is so convenient and has a good record for excellence in education.”
After Peatra visited the financial aid office and discovered that she could receive assistance through the Pell Grant, she was thrilled.
“I just didn’t know about the financial aid opportunities that Northeast could provide,” said Peatra. “I hadn’t been in school in 32 years, and when I went to my first classes, I saw many people just like me.”
NACC President Dr. David Campbell said the diversity in ages and backgrounds of the students is what makes community colleges like Northeast special.
“Community colleges are reflections of the local communities that we live in every day,” said Campbell. “It’s a real educational opportunity to be able to learn along with people with different life experiences and perspectives.”
Peatra received two degrees, on in Office Administration and one in Office Adminstration/Medical Option. Anthony received a degree in Computer Science and Rhonda received the Childhood Development Degree.
Peatra is looking into work options but is leaning toward the medical field. Anthony is following up on job leads and Rhonda will be employed in the daycare setting while looking to advance in her career.
“I can honestly say there were some tough moments, but you have so many people on campus to help you through them,” said Peatra.
Ernestine Pace was Peatra’s instructor and advisor.
“She was very instrumental in helping me to graduate as well as Sherry Whitten, who helped me with an office internship and guidance,” said Peatra.
While at Northeast, Peatra found the College and Career Planning Center to be very helpful.
“It has been a pleasure for our College and and Career Planning staff to work with non-traditional students like Peatra,” said Whitten, who serves as the director of the center. “We met Peatra when she first started at NACC and have enjoyed assisting her with career and academic planning. Peatra recently completed an office internship with Highlands Medical Center and was an excellent intern. We look forward to completing her college experience at NACC by assisting her with job placement.”
Peatra chose Office Administration because looking back at her early years of employment, she had enjoyed the office environment the most.
“I wanted to be a part of the medical field, but in an office setting that I truly enjoy,” she said. “Anthony had always dealt with computers in his work and had always enjoyed it. He studied on his own, learned a lot and was in managerial positions, but to advance he needed a degree to do what he wanted to do. No he has that.”
Peatra said Rhonda, who is a Sunday School teacher, has always known she wanted to work with children.
“She has always had a tendency to be involved with kids and helping them in some way,” said Peatra. “She is so good with children.”
Peatra said NACC is a good school with good people.
“I can honestly say I have always been treated so well at Northeast,” she said. “From the moment I began two years ago in the Admissions Office with Tonie Niblett to Dr. Joe Burke. Everyone has been so nice and so helpful. Mrs. Niblett was very compassionate toward me. I have never met someone so caring.”
In addition to the three being Summa Cum Laude, Peatra was inducted into Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges. All three were in the Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Kappa Delta honor societies.
“It has been such a bittersweet moment for me to graduate from Northeast,” said Peatra. “It has been such a big part of my life for the last two years. I will miss it. I will just have to come back and visit. Northeast is awesome.”