Tammy Condrey walked on the stage at Aiken Technical College on Tuesday, receiving an associate degree in accounting – an experience she had been waiting 25 years for.

“I started out of high school and stopped to be with my family,” Condrey said. “Now my children are grown, and I decided to back to school, working and going to school full-time at night. It means a lot to me, a sense of accomplishment.”

More than 500 students participated in two ceremonies on Tuesday. Health sciences graduates participated in an afternoon ceremony, followed by general education students that night.

So much has changed at Aiken Technical College since its first group of 20 graduates four decades ago, said ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor.

“Over our 40-year history,” she said, “this college has served 217,000 students in more than 80 programs. Our core mission has remained.”

ATC provides opportunities to move into the workforce or transfer to four-year colleges and universities, Winsor said. The campus offers a link to a community that seeks out and is in need of a strong workforce.

At the evening program, Winsor introduced Lynn Rickabaugh, the Faculty Member of the Year, and Don True, the Staffer of the Year. They had been formally recognized earlier in the day.

The guest speaker at both ceremonies was Jeffrey Archie, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for the S.C. Electric and Gas Company. While a grade-point average is important, he advised the graduates that other factors can be just as essential or even more so.

Prospective employees should demonstrate their willingness to handle tasks as assigned and also show initiative. They must be able work with others as a team. Additional educational goals can also move them further in their careers, including leadership roles.

Courtney Wise, 24, attended college for the first time in 2010, and on Tuesday, received an associate degree in applied science.

“I just wanted to set a good example for my kids,” Wise said. “Aiken Tech has provided me with a great education and also provided the funds for me. I'm taking summer off, and then I have a new job.”

William Byers also received an associate degree – his in general technology with an emphasis in engineering graphics.

“I spent six years in the Marine Corps and then got a free education here,” he said. “I finished in two years and have an interview tomorrow. The Marines grew me up a lot, but the biggest contribution came from my wife Amanda. She really inspired me.”