Based on local needs and conditions, Virginia’s Community Colleges this year staged springtime graduations in a variety of formats. Some were virtual events, some were in-person, but socially distanced. Drive-by commencement parades rolled across a number of campuses. This month, we’ll be looking at some of the graduation success stories from our students, despite a challenging year of instruction. A common theme was perseverance. College and faculty and staff across the state also deserve immense credit for going above and beyond to help this year’s graduates reach their goals.
We start with a couple of VCCS leaders who knew community college was a good solution for their own children.
That’s Lord Fairfax President Kim Blosser on the left, hugging happy graduate, Will Blosser. “I tell students and parents all the time what a smart decision it is to get your associate degree and then transfer. So it made me very happy to watch my oldest son, Will, earn his associate degree. It’s the advice I give all parents – and I’ve never had a student or a parent tell me they regretted coming to us first,” said Dr. Blosser.
A few days before graduating from high school, 18 year old Frank Kennedy earned his associate degree in Arts & Sciences Summa Cum Laude at Rappahannock Community College. His mom, RCC President Shannon Kennedy, (right) is convinced Frank’s college transcript helped him get accepted at UVA. “What can I say?” said Dr. Kennedy. “I’m a proud momma!” “Dual enrollment was a great experience,” said Frank. “I won’t need four years to get my bachelor’s degree and we’ve saved a significant amount of money.”
“After I graduated from high school, I struggled with fear and anxiety, which kept me from being successful,” said Shaunqeitra Person. But with determination, a positive attitude, and help from Camp Community College staff, Person graduated this spring with an associate degree in business administration, and was chosen student speaker at Camp’s commencement exercises.
Her next goal is to transfer to Norfolk State University to pursue a degree in psychology to become a licensed counselor and life coach. Her long-term mission is to “transform lives by expressing faith and denouncing fear to assist each person with becoming the best version of themselves while also assisting them with making good choices.”
The support that Natalia Garcia received as a young child learning English as a second language inspired her to a career in the classroom. And with her associate degree in education in hand from Wytheville Community College, she’s on her way. She plans to transfer to a four-year university with a goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.
Garcia also turned out to be a stand-out member of the WCC forensics team, and competed and placed in the Collegiate Forensics Association Southern Excursion tournament.
Tidewater Community College turned out to be the ideal second chance for Athena Jones, who was left with no degree and a ton of student debt after having to leave a four-year college to care for a family member. Jones worked in home health care and even lobbied congress for social justice causes.
“In the midst of my advocacy work, I knew I needed to go back to school,” Jones said. “TCC was a perfect fit. I received needed support and my professors were deeply invested in my success.” With her associate degree now in hand, Jones will pursue a bachelor’s in political science and is considering law school.
“Before TCC, I was a ‘C’ student and had college debt. Now, I have no college debt and I’m graduating from TCC with a perfect GPA,” Jones added.
“I want people to see you don’t have to be defined by your past; you can really make a difference and you absolutely need to be your own superhero.”
Look for another batch of VCCS graduation success stories on June 22.