HAMLET — When Jesse Benoist walked across the podium Friday morning in the Cole Auditorium to receive his certificate, he heard some shoutouts from his 3-year-old daughter Ella that made him hold back some tears.
“Hi Daddy!” she said trying to get his attention.
“It made me tear up just about,” said Benoist.
Benoist along with 17 other classmates were part of the inaugual Electric Lineman graduating class at Richmond Community College. Benoist’s girlfriend Bailey Dawkins said she was proud to see Benoist walk across the stage since this was something he worked hard for.
“He would get up early every day to get to school,” she said. “He was in the Marine Corps and worked at Pinehurst No. 5 — a golf course.”
“It was something he wanted to see himself succeed in and support his family,” added Chris Williams, Benoist’s future father-in-law.
The Electric Lineman course is offered through RCC’s Workforce and Economic Development division and taught by instructors Scott Caulder, Garry Veach and Joey Keane. It prepares individuals to work as linemen in the preparation and repair of rural electrical utility service. Course topics include basic elements of electricity, overhead pole and electrical line constructions, safety codes and applications, electric system, transformer and meter installations and explorations of underground electrical distribution.
With the completion of the class, students receive their NCCER Certification, OSHA 10 Certification, First Aid/CPR Certification and their CDL Learner’s Permit.
Mary Dial, the only female in the group, said she was thankful for the course and has several job offers lined up, including one from Duke Energy.
“It’s not easy and I didn’t want any slack cut for me,” she said. “I busted my rump to be here, and I love my boys.”
One company in attendance was MasTec, a construction company that has been involved in some of the largest and most complex infrastructure construction projects across the country, with several offices across North America, according to their website.
Eric Thigpen, director of training and safety with MasTec, said they’re proud of what the students have accomplished. He said they’ve observed the students during their classes and said they can see future partnerships with the college.
“We brought in recruitment teams from as far out as Texas to create a pipeline,” said Thigpen. “We’re going to be assessing their (RCC) needs for the next class to see how we can help.”
RCC President William McInnis said it was inspirational watching the students graduate Friday morning. Looking back eight months ago, he said, there used to be nothing but trees outside where the electrical poles for the class now stands. McInnis said it took a whole college effort to turn the program into a reality.
“These students had the courage to leave what they did to come here,” he said. “It takes guts to come out here.
“I’m looking forward to hearing from them,” McInnis added. “If they can do this, it should inspire others to come and do it.”
During the ceremony, McInnis talked to the graduates about courage — how most left their jobs to take a chance on the course, how their instructor Caulder left his job with Pee Dee Electric to start something new and how in nine weeks, the students were able to change their lives.
“That takes courage,” McInnis told them. “Make us proud and let everyone know where you went to school. I’m proud of you, trailblazers.”
Caulder got a little emotional talking with his students, saying he now has to say goodbye to a team they’ve created.
“I’m so excited for these young men and women in the next journey of their life,” said Caulder. “I want the county to know that this program will be huge. Dr. McInnis said this will be the premier facility and when he says it, he means it.”
The graduating class includes Terry Bell, Jesse Benoist, Alan Blackmon Jr., Cyran Dial, Mary Dial, Andrew Guinn, Chad Huggins, Jacob Jones, Matthew Lee, James Locklear, Phillip Locklear, Charles McCaskill, Christopher McCormick, Alden Morrison, Christian Rhone, Charles Sessoms, Christopher Sheppard and Dustin Williams.
The next class will start March 4 and will run until May 14. The deadline for registration is March 1. For more information or to sign up, contact Angineek Gillenwater at 910-410-1848 or [email protected]
Reach Jasmine Hager at 910-817-2675 or [email protected]