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Lanier Tech reflects growth at graduation
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Lanier Tech graduates, from left, Jessica Smith, Rhonda Mitchell, Frances Cornman and Maria Wilkerson smile as a friend snaps a picture Friday evening at the graduation ceremony for the Oakwood technical school at Free Chapel. - photo by Tom Reed

Lanier Technical College graduated its largest class of students Friday night — and the programs just keep growing.

“Because of the recession, this is a very special graduating class,” interim President Russell Vandiver said. “As the jobs start to come back, we want to help prepare these students with skills because those will be the people in line to get jobs quicker. It’s a big night for us. I like to call it a celebration.”

Friday night marked the 44th graduation for the college. In 1967, Lanier Tech boasted 51 graduates in seven programs, including secretarial sciences, welding and data processing.

Now more than 1,300 students graduate with various degrees, diplomas and technical certificates.

This year’s enrollment saw a 20 percent jump.

“It’s an exciting time for us, and we feel like our enrollment is going to continue to increase,” Vandiver said. “For folks who are out of jobs, I’d much rather they get more training so they can get new opportunities.”

Lanier Tech added few staff and faculty this year to match the leap in student numbers. Coupled with the time-consuming process of preparing for a more stringent accreditation process, staff members have been quite busy.

“We’ve had budget cuts, like every other agency, but we’ve been able to maintain the quality of service provided to our students,” he said. “Doing that without adding staff and going through the accreditation process, our staff have done a wonderful job and really gone the extra mile.”

Student enrollment increased across all majors, but administrators see the largest job growth in the health care field. Friday’s guest speaker, Lynn Jackson of Northside Hospital in Forsyth County, served as an example for the many job opportunities open to the new graduates.

“I want them to know what I’ve learned during my career of serving others and to leave room in their budding careers for surprises, laughter and for them to take action,” she said. “To not just look at what might be possible but what they can actually do. I think the education they’re receiving is very unique, and they’re going to be uniquely qualified.”

As Vandiver has created a strategic plan during the last six months to expand new programs and facilities, he’s putting emphasis on the health care field.

“We went to the seven counties we serve and had good discussions about what their needs are and what their perceptions were, and that helps when you start looking five to 10 years down the road,” he said. “As folks are getting older, a lot of needs there will create jobs in the future.”

Annette Shutters, an accounting major from the Forsyth County campus, gave Friday night’s invocation. She was excited to see the variety of ages and majors represented in the graduating class.

“I’ve been so excited to be back in school,” she said. “It’s so much fun being in college when you get older and have a different perspective and start to recognize that you may have some hidden talents.”

Shutters was named as the college’s Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership winner this year for excellence in academics and leadership. Although she is not graduating yet, she is excited to see what her classmates do in the job world.

“Try not to settle for something you don’t love,” she said.

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