After repeated difficulties securing financial aid to go to a four-year college, someone told Amanda Simmons that "maybe she wasn't meant for college." Harinath Mookaparambil also was unsure about his path to receiving a college degree after moving from India to Charleston in 2011.

Graduation ceremonies


Trident Technical College: 7 p.m., North Charleston Coliseum. Speakers: Students Harinath Mookaparambil and Amanda Simmons.


Charleston Southern University: 10 a.m., North Charleston Coliseum. Speaker: Harvey L. Galloway, executive director of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation.

American College of the Building Arts: 10 a.m., Old Jail, 21 Magazine St. Speaker: Katharine S. Robinson, president and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation.

May 9

South Carolina State University: 7 p.m., Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium. Speaker: Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America.

May 10

The Citadel: 8:30 a.m., McAlister Field House. Speaker: Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force.

The Citadel Graduate College: 3:30 p.m., McAlister Field House. Speaker: Scott Case, co-founder and CEO, Main Street Genome, and founding Chief Technology Officer,

College of Charleston: 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Cistern Yard. Speaker: Sen. Tim Scott.

May 11

Charleston School of Law: 1 p.m., McAlister Field House, The Citadel. Speaker: William C. Hubbard, president-elect of the American Bar Association.

May 16

Medical University of South Carolina: 9 a.m., McAlister Field House, The Citadel. Speaker: John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., CEO of the American Cancer Society.

Both Simmons, 26, and Mookaparambil, 22, will add their stories Friday to the thousands of students who have come before them. They are the student speakers for the 50th graduating class of Trident Technical College. The 2014 class is the college's largest graduating class in history with 1,964 students receiving degrees.

Simmons and Mookaparambil are honored to speak at the milestone commencement celebration.

"I feel grateful," Mookaparambil said. "I feel happy that I'm able to speak for that."

Trident Technical College opened in 1964 as Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Technical Education Center. The school started with 15 programs of study and 226 students. It merged with Palmer College, a private business school, in 1973 and was renamed Trident Technical College. Today the school has 17,489 students and offers more than 150 programs.

"It's kind of hard to believe that it's been 50 years," said Bobby Clair, who was among the first students to enroll in 1964. "It's a really exciting time to be a part of this college, and for being a part of that for over 50 years now is a real privilege."

Clair earned a certificate in industrial drafting and design in 1965 and then an associate's degree in civil engineering technology in 1967. He went on to be an integral part of the design and construction of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge as the director of engineering and special projects of the S.C. Department of Transportation.

Clair, who along with other 1965 graduates will attend graduation Friday, feels the college has remained consistent over the years in how it cares for and nurtures its students. He said the college does a great job of providing an affordable education to students looking to transfer to a four-year school as well as providing workforce development programs in fields where there is current demand, such as nursing or aeronautics.

Trident Tech President Mary Thornley, who has been with the college since 1973, is proud of the college's ability to grow and change over the years to continue to serve the needs of students and the community. The school took over offering associate's degrees in allied health programs from a joint program with the Medical University of South Carolina in the 1980s. Trident already was providing college transfer programs for students pursuing a four-year degree when the Commission on Higher Education mandated all of the state's 16 community colleges offer a transfer program in the 1990s.

Last year, Thornley revealed plans to build a $79 million aeronautical training center to help train workers at Boeing and related businesses. Trident earlier this year debuted a new $30 million Nursing and Science Building.

Despite all the growth and change, serving non-traditional students, such as Simmons and Mookaparambil, is what trident does best, Thornley said.

"We're completely non-traditional," she said. "So much of the world is non-traditional."

Simmons will graduate with an associate degree of arts. She hopes to earn a bachelor's degree in theater production and eventually be an "imagineer" with The Walt Disney Co. Mookaparambil is earning an associate's in science. He hopes to pursue a four-year degree as a pre-med student to eventually become a dentist.

Both students say their time at Trident has given them confidence to pursue a college degree and their career aspirations.

"People need to know that just because something bad happens doesn't mean it's the end of the line," Simmons said.

Mookaparambil, who enrolled at Trident three months after moving from India, said the students, faculty and staff helped him a lot along the way and reassured him about pursuing his degree.

"I see a lot of change in me which Trident gave me," he said.

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at