This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

There were dreams floating around in the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center Thursday night.

There, 41 middle-school students from Caldwell and Watauga counties were named recipients of the Dream Award, a scholarship that guarantees future tuition at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute.

Presented by the Foundation of CCC&TI, the award also sets up students to receive support and education throughout middle and high school that is aimed at keeping them on track to graduate and attend college. Since 1989, the foundation has given Dream Awards to 1,050 sixth-graders.On Thursday, guests heard from people on both sides of their dreams.

They heard from Ashley Bolick, who was raised by a single mother who worked long hours as a cosmetologist to provide for her – and didn’t always have extra money to put away for college. Bolick now works for the Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions, helping other people find jobs.

They heard from Vontenea Williams, who, after graduating from CCC&TI, went to Pfeiffer University to work on her bachelor’s degree and an MBA in one stretch. She is on track to graduate with both in December.

They heard from Billy Woods, who was a triplet – one of three students all requiring college funding at the same time, from the same parents. Woods studied business administration at CCC&TI and now works for Wells Fargo.

Guests also heard from this year’s Dream Award recipients, and they heard about their dreams. Among the class of 2019 are students who dream of being aeronautical engineers, medical examiners, marine biologists, cosmetologists, librarians, neonatal nurses, teachers and physicists.

The idea is that dreams sometimes require a push, that it takes some motivation and encouragement to make it from lugging your backpack to sixth grade to overseeing a library or taking care of patients or doing any one of the things these students don’t yet realize they’ll do.

“It is our belief, as a college, as a foundation board, that once a family member breaks the barrier for college, he or she has broken it for many generations to come,” said Dena Holman, CCC&TI’s vice president of student services. “It props everyone up. It makes everyone excited. It fuels dreams.”

There was a sound (imaginary, not auditory) of all those dreams in the civic center Thursday. It wasn’t a shattering glass ceiling, exactly. It was more like the creak of a door, a door just barely opening to what might be, opening where it may have been shut before.

On Thursday, the Dream recipients sat in the middle of the room, flanked on either side by officials and well-wishers, then filed up to the front of the room to be recognized.

And you could almost hear that sound cutting a river through the center of the room where they sat, and up to the front where they stood – the sound of sixth-grade dreams and grown-up futures.

Creak. Creak. Creak.