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Randolph Community College graduate and Lead Instructor for College and Career Readiness, Lambirth overcame obstacles to succeed and help her students do the same.

A Book Worth Reading: Emma Lambirth

Submitted by: Megan Crotty, Assistant Director of Communications, Randolph Community College

ASHEBORO (July 10, 2023) — Life could have turned out so much differently for Randolph Community College graduate and Lead Instructor for College and Career Readiness Emma Lambirth. When she was 10, Lambirth found her dad after he had had a stroke, and her niece passed away at 18 months old. Two years later, her dad, Michael, died on November 9 — just over a week after his 47th birthday. While he was on his deathbed, Lambirth promised her dad four things: She would finish high school, she would go to college, she would take care of her mom, and she wouldn’t get married until she was 30.  

This April, Lambirth turned 30 with a master’s degree in Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counseling, the support of her mom, Brenda; and no ring on her finger — yet. All that while helping raise her nephew and being the breadwinner. 

“[My mom’s] been through so much, working two or three jobs at times because my dad was disabled,” said Lambirth, the youngest of four. “Her job dissolved two years ago. She said, ‘Well, I can continue working.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not working. You deserve this. You’ve taken care of all of us. It’s my turn.’  

“My mom is amazing. She is my rock, my best friend. Everything. We always say it’s me and her against the world.” 

••• 

Lambirth’s journey hasn’t been easy. 

At 14, she dropped out of homeschooling, but to help her family she needed to get a job — a tough thing to do without a high school diploma. Four years later, in March 2013, she mustered the courage to call RCC. 

“I have agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder,” Lambirth said. “I’m the girl that, even in church having been there my whole life, I’d sit between my mom and my grandma, and I didn’t talk because I was so scared. So, reaching out and calling was a huge step.” 

When she met with the orientation specialist, Lambirth requested afternoon classes — a decision that would change her life. The instructor, Julie Kerns, took Lambirth under her wing and made sure she succeeded, helping her with the math she needed to graduate and helping her find a job at a daycare. 

“She listened to me cry. She gave me oodles and oodles of multiplication facts to learn. She believed in me before I believed in myself,” Lambirth said. 

It took Lambirth just four months to graduate. When she received her diploma, Kerns had a bit of advice for Lambirth, who had the opportunity to take a class free of charge after graduating: “Don’t let that free class go to waste.” 

Having never thought she’d be a college student, but not wanting to break the promise she made to her dad, Lambirth, with Kerns’ help, filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and application and enrolled in an Early Childhood Education (ECE) class. 

“I fell in love with it,” Lambirth said. 

And she thrived. Lambirth joined Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was vice president of her class, breaking out of her comfort zone to go to Maryland and Wilmington for conferences. 

She had a little boost from an important member of the RCC community, too. On her first day of classes, she was eating lunch in the noisy cafeteria. 

“It was booming,” Lambirth said. “I was scared to death. I sat down by myself, and this gentleman who was in a suit and tie sat with me and was just talking, ‘How are you doing? How are things going?’ ” 

It happened to be then-RCC President Dr. Robert S. Shackleford Jr. The lunch had a profound impact on Lambirth, who was inspired to come back to the College as a faculty or staff member. 

conference attendees

First, she took a detour. After graduating from RCC in 2016, Lambirth pondered furthering her education. 

“My boyfriend at the time said, ‘I don’t think you should because you’re community college smart, but not university smart,’ ” she said. 

Challenge accepted. Lambirth dropped the boyfriend and took a tour of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with now-retired RCC ECE Instructor Dr. Nancy McCurry. With McCurry showing her the ins and outs of applying at UNCG and Kerns proofreading her essay, Lambirth was accepted. 

“The first day I got there, I had a panic attack,” she said. “It’s completely different from RCC.” 

Eventually, though, Lambirth made friends and excelled, becoming a peer tutor. She persevered and graduated in 2019 with a Human Development and Family Studies degree with a minor in Gerontology. She even found a job at a retirement community in Greensboro. 

Unfortunately, the job lasted two weeks, sending Lambirth into a deep depression. 

“It killed me,” she said. “I was the one who got a job before any of her friends. I was the success. I started thinking, ‘I’m not worthy. I peaked in college.’ ” 

While looking for a job, Lambirth was at church and RCC Student Services Counselor Dean Beck, who had worked with her when she was a student, came to preach. Beck was in the internship phase of a counseling program and needed people to counsel. 

“I was talking to him, and he’s like, ‘Emma, you’re a counselor. You know this stuff. You can do this,’ ” Lambirth said. “When my dad passed away, they sent me to a counselor and the counselor told me that Heaven was not a place, it was a feeling, and I was never going to see my dad again. I was 12. Me being a preacher’s granddaughter, I stood up and said, ‘No, you’re wrong.’ She refused to see me again. So, I always had this thing — ‘Lord, if you ever get me here, I’m not going to do that.’ I wanted to be a grief counselor.” That meant she was applying to graduate school. 

Lambirth revamped her college essay with Kerns’ and Beck’s backing, submitted it, and was admitted to Liberty University’s online program. But she still needed a job. 

At the time, RCC’s College and Career Readiness (CCR) Department was looking for instructors. There were already staff members there who knew Lambirth as a hard worker, so she applied. Just to be sure she joined the team, Beck walked her application down to CCR Director Jordan Wiliamson. 

“He told her, ‘You’re going to make a mistake if you don’t hire this girl,’ ” Lambirth said. 

The next day, she got a phone call. They needed a math teacher — Lambirth’s least favorite subject. She took the job anyway. Less than a year later, Lambirth was promoted to Lead Instructor for College and Career Readiness. On December 18, she graduated from Liberty University with a master’s degree. 
Lambirth says she is happy to share her story with her students. She speaks of one student who was in her class at RCC but left. The student is back, having put six kids through college. 

“She was getting down on herself,” Lambirth said. “I told her that we’re still going to graduate together [in December]. That’s why I tell these students, ‘If I can do it, so can you. If you have a good work ethic, you can change your life. This chapter is done for you, but that doesn’t mean that’s the beginning of a new chapter. And it doesn’t matter if your chapter is a novel or three pages. A good chapter’s a good chapter. And it’s your chapter; there’s no other chapter like it.’ ” 

Having fulfilled her promises to her dad, Lambirth is unsure of what comes next — but she knows it involves RCC, her home away from home. 

“What do I live for? Well, I live for these students,” she said. “Sometimes that inferiority complex hits hard. But I’m here for a reason and they are, too. I want to be that one to help them write their book.” 

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