Tommy Pegues remembers the day his grandmother came to the hospital where he was performing clinical rounds for Northeastern Technical College's nursing program.
"Getting in the Associate Degree of Nursing program was tough," Pegues said. "Staying in the program was even tougher. I had a lot of people doubting me. But not my grandmother. She came to the hospital that day just to tell me, 'You will make it.'"
Pegues, of Bennettsville, was among the 25 graduates who walked across the stage May 14, 2010, to receive his nursing pin and lamp — valuable tokens after 21 months of intensive studying and clinical rotations.
"With this nursing degree from Northeastern Technical College, I can branch out and go anywhere," Pegues said.
There was a time in his life, however, when Pegues felt like he wasn't going to go anywhere. He grew up in a neighborhood where drug raids are not uncommon and getting shot is a real fear for young black males like himself. His peers were not encouraging him to leave the hood and go to college, but Pegues knew he wanted more than a rap sheet, or worse — a toe tag.
After graduating Marlboro County High School, Pegues joined the military and became a Marine. He did tours in Kuwait and Iraq, but he knew a military career was not for him. After four years of service, he was honorably discharged and back home in Bennettsville looking for that stepping stone to a better life.
"I'd always been interested in the medical field," Pegues said, "but how does a 'Shady Rest boy' pay for that kind of education? If I was going to go to college, I was going to have to have a job, too."
Pegues learned about Northeastern Technical College the way most people do, by word of mouth. He began talking to friends who were going to school at NETC and earning a college degree while still maintaining a job and family life.
"I saw how they were able to go to NETC and then transfer to another college if they wanted to get a four-year degree," Pegues said. "For me, Northeastern Technical College was close to home and my job, and it was affordable. It was my starting place."
Pegues is in his final year at Francis Marion University, where he is pursuing a bachelor's degree in nursing. He is also working as a registered nurse at Sandhills Regional Medical Center in Hamlet, N.C., but once he has his four-year degree, Pegues said he would like to become a traveling nurse.
For Pegues, his future is bright, but it has taken a lot of hard work and persistence to pursue his goals.
Pegues did not get into NETC's nursing program on his first attempt. However, he completed the Associate in Science program, which gave him the competitive edge he needed to land a spot in the Associate Degree of Nursing program in 2008.
"The nursing instructors are very tough and thorough. They are not going to spoon feed you. They make you go out there and work for your grade," Pegues said. "They give you a life lesson, and that's if you really want something, you have to work for it."
While the nursing program is demanding, the nursing instructors provide plenty of support and mentoring to assist students in attaining their goals. Pegues said he felt well prepared when he began the four-year bachelor's degree program at Francis Marion University.
"I felt more prepared than the other students in my class. It was almost like review time for me, because I already knew a lot of the material," Pegues said. "I attribute that to starting at two-year college where the classes are smaller and the students are more focused."
Pegues was recently asked to speak to a group of NETC students on campus during a career planning event. During his presentation, Pegues used himself as an example of someone who grew up with the odds stacked against him, but he did not let that discourage him from reaching for his goals.
"Look at me, a young black man who is a nurse,'" Pegues said. "If I can make it, you can too."
Hi-Res Photo Caption: Tommy Pegues, of Bennettsville, started his pathway to a career in nursing at Northeastern Technical College by earning an Associate Degree of Nursing. He is now pursuing a Bachelor Degree of Nursing at Francis Marion University.
Tags: Life Changing