Wade Spees // The Post and Courier

Looking down onto the largest graduating class in Trident Tech’s history, Gerret Pinckney found his wife Laronna in the sea of graduates filing into the North Charleston Coliseum on Friday.

"I stand here today with tears of joy," said Ternisha Bligen, moments before she picked up her associate degree in paralegal technology.

Bligen, a single mother of three, was the featured student speaker at Trident Technical College's graduation ceremony Friday night at North Charleston Coliseum.

The school graduated the largest class in its 47-year history, with more than 1,800 students. Had they all chosen to participate in the ceremony, they would not have fit into the Coliseum.

As the students marched in to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," the college's wide appeal to non-traditional students was apparent. Men and women of every shape, size, color and age beamed with pride. Their eyes darted back and forth between scanning the bleachers and watching where they were going. Their faces broke into big smile and they'd wave when they found their loved ones.

The college president, Mary Thornley, introduced Bligen, who was selected as the student reflection speaker by an audition process. Bligen told the crowd her journey began when she enrolled in August 2009. She thanked her family, friends and classmates as well as Trident's staff and faculty for helping her reach her goal.

"I couldn't have asked for a better support system," she said. She also thanked her three children for being unselfish and sacrificing time with her.

The commencement speaker, William Geary of Boeing South Carolina, talked about the big changes Boeing is bringing to South Carolina as well as the big changes ahead in the lives of the graduates.

Geary talked a bit about his own background, and the changes he faced, growing up in Washington. His parents divorced and he took on two newspaper routes to help bring in some money.

"It's during those scary times of change that we learn about our limits," Geary said. He encouraged the graduates to embrace change.

Geary, whose official title at Boeing South Carolina is "director of mid body assembly and integration," said South Carolina is going to "change the landscape of commercial aviation." He said everyone in the state will be affected, positively, by Boeing's presence in the state.