HAMLET — Stephen McQueen made up his mind long before graduation that after high school he was done with school. Besides, he was graduating with a pharmacy technician certificate, thanks to Scotland Early College High School, and was equipped to go to work.
However, McQueen made a life-changing decision during the SEarCH graduation ceremony as he listened to the principal announcing the many graduates who were continuing their education at a college or university.
“Hearing how my fellow classmates were going elsewhere to school put a spark in me,” McQueen said. “Suddenly, I wanted to go to a four-year school, too, but I decided to start with Richmond Community College. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
FROM CLASS CLOWN TO CLASS TEACHER
McQueen, formerly of Laurinburg, is quick to admit he wasn’t the best student in high school.
“Many of my friends from high school knew me as the one who always played around, and I couldn’t be taken seriously,” McQueen said. “I’m sure many are still in shock as to how far I’ve come, as I am too.”
McQueen is an instructional assistant with Gallberry Farm Elementary School in Hope Mills, where he now lives. He graduated from RichmondCC in 2016 with an Associate in Applied Science in School-Age Education. He is working toward a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, with a concentration in Special Education, from Fayetteville State University.
McQueen is the very first in his family to graduate with any type of college degree.
“When I started at RichmondCC back in 2014 at the age of 19, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. It probably seemed like a strange career choice for someone like me, a first-generation college student. Plus, I have no family members who work in education, except for a cousin,” he said.
NOT AN EASY ROAD
College presented many obstacles for McQueen, as it does for many students.
“My mother who is a God-fearing woman, whom I love dearly, would always tell me, ‘Stephen, if college was easy, everyone would be doing it,’” he recalled.
McQueen was a full-time student at RichmondCC while working part time at Lowes.
“I also was trying to maintain a social life too, so I had many nights worrying and stressing, wondering how I was going to make it through. I would stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. — if not later — studying, doing homework, then waking up at 7:15 the next morning to be in class,” McQueen said. “But I had determination. I refused to stay where I was in life. I wanted my education and I knew that God was working in the midst for me, giving me the determination and strength to succeed in every area of my life.”
One barrier that McQueen didn’t face at RichmondCC was student debt.
“Financial Aid was something that helped me my entire two years at RichmondCC,” he said. “Despite the part-time job I was working, if it hadn’t been for financial aid, I would have never earned my degree. I left RichmondCC with my two-year degree not having to pay anything out of pocket. To this day I am thankful for this.”
A COLLEGE YOU NEVER WANT TO LEAVE
McQueen is also thankful for the individualized attention he received from his instructors in the Early Childhood Education department.
“Mrs. Sheila Reagan, Mrs. April Chavis-Johnson, Mrs. Sherri Dunn-Ramsay, and lastly Mrs. Jennifer Murray — these awesome instructors gave me the encouragement and determination that I needed to succeed. To this day I stay in contact with Mrs. Murray as well as Mrs. Chavis-Johnson,” he said. When a problem arises, I’m immediately on the phone with Mrs. Murray, and she always has the right thing to say at the right time. I know I still worry her more than her current students, but she is truly God-sent.”
Leaving RichmondCC was hard for McQueen because he had built so many deep relationships with his instructors and classmates.
“If I could have received my four-year degree at RichmondCC, I never would have left. I love this college and the awesome people who work there,” he added.
BUILDING A CAREER IN EDUCATION
McQueen enjoys being in a teaching role, but his ultimate career goal is to become a principal, so he knows he will have to get a master’s degree in administration. The idea of “more school” doesn’t discourage him like it did all those years ago in high school.
“I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college, but deep down I knew ‘there has to be more to life than this.’ If you are someone who thinks that you can’t do it, well I was in the same place,” he said. “RichmondCC helped start me in my career in education. I love working with kids, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
To learn more about RichmondCC, visit www.richmondcc.edu or call 910-410-1730 to speak to a counselor about your educational goals.