Posted on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

This spring, more than 30,000 students proudly crossed stages at VCCS commencement exercises across the state, earning associate degrees along with academic and career credentials. In the first of two parts, here are highlights from graduation speaker addresses:

Guylaine Saint Juste

“In 1987, an immigrant girl from Haiti, barely speaking or comprehending English, I could never have even dreamed that I’d one day be your commencement speaker,” said NOVA alumna Guylaine Saint Juste at Northern Virginia Community College May 17.

Known to her friends as “Guy,” she is executive director of Year Up, a DC non-profit that helps urban young adults gain skills and support to succeed in careers and higher education.

“Human history resembles a beautiful mosaic. Rich, vibrant, colorful. Each of us a speck on that mosaic reminding us of our insignificance. Yet, without this unique piece, a hole is left vacant that no one else can fill. Therefore, class of 2019, you have a duty, a responsibility, an obligation to aspire to lead a life of significance.”

Linda Hutson Green

Danville Community College also looked to an alumna to deliver its commencement address May 11. Linda Hutson Green has had a long and successful career in economic development in Southern Virginia.

“I stand here this morning in honor of you all,” Green said. “It’s each of you that will make a difference in this community in the days ahead.”

“In economic development, the number one thing that industry representatives look for is in the center of this room: It’s the students and the talent pipelines that they want to build for tomorrow. It’s each of you. We can’t do this alone and it’s the strength of the students in these programs that they’re looking at, and that’s the reason companies come to this area.”

Chancellor DuBois

“I, too, am a community college graduate. The truth is that I wouldn’t be, and I probably wouldn’t be here if it were up to me. You see, my mom made me do it,” said Thomas Nelson Community College commencement speaker Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the VCCS.

“Close your eyes for a moment and think about your favorite actor. Think about your favorite singer. Now, think about your favorite sports star, if you have one. And finally, think about your best friend or favorite family member. Got ‘em?

“Now, open your eyes, and hear me clearly. Whatever you do, don’t try to be any of those people. Why? Because we already have them, but we don’t have another you. Admire their best qualities. Let them inspire you in the ways they do. But at the end of the day, be yourself,” said DuBois May 9.

Avis Hackett-Fortune

At Rappahannock Community College, student commencement speaker Avis Hackett-Fortune was one of several VCCS speakers this spring who broke into song at the lectern: “They said I won’t make it; said I won’t be here today; said I’d never amount to anything; but I’m glad to say I made my way and I’m graduating here again today.”

“From 1976 to 2014, I have worked and taken courses at RCC and while taking these courses, I have raised 4 children, 13 grandchildren, and have cared for multiple family members, but I persevered!” said Hackett-Fortune.

“Education is the most powerful weapon we have. If you stop breathing, you die. If you stop learning, you will not succeed. Just like breathing, learning should be a fundamental instinct in life that we continuously practice and expand upon every day. Once you learn something, no one can take it away. It’s essentially another means to surviving. Every day I get up, I am breathing and I am learning. I am persevering!”

“I started this journey not knowing if I could complete a two-year degree, and within a year, WCC had given me the confidence I needed to commit to a four-year program,” said Wytheville Community College graduate and commencement speaker Savanah Taylor.

Savanah Taylor

A single mother, Taylor worked a second shift at a fast-food chain to afford college, and said she was motivated by her fellow students.

“I was so inspired by the varied tapestry of life journeys. A veteran using his GI Bill to fulfill his dreams after having already fulfilled his selfless commitment to our freedom; a woman my mom’s age who had always dreamed of getting a degree – now it was finally her time once her kids were grown and gone; a young first time mom making her classes work around her pregnancy,” said Taylor.

“The diversity around me gave me the courage to reach bigger, dream bigger, accomplish more. I would not be here today if it weren’t for those stories.”

Patrick Henry Community College also chose one of its 2019 graduates to deliver its commencement address on May 11.

Isaiah Young

“I think I speak for most of us when I say it didn’t come easy, but they say the best things in life don’t come easy anyway,” said Isaiah Young, who had dreams of going to Broadway when he was in high school. PHCC offered a second chance.

Steve Harvey

“I have come to realize that through the hardest challenges you learn the most important lessons. If you have that fire in your gut that keeps you fighting for your dreams, don’t lose it. The world needs to hear your voice. The world needs to see your passion. Sometimes you’ll be the only one supporting your dream, but keep going. It will happen for you.”

Steve Harvey, chair of New River Community College Board, challenged graduates to be life-long learners during NRCC commencement ceremonies May 15.
“Your educational journey probably had some challenges, but the rewards of learning are powerful. Education enables you to build your future to become leaders in your communities, in business or in government. Education is freedom,” said Harvey.

“It’s the freedom to choose, freedom to decide, freedom to advance, freedom to accept other challenges.”

On June 18, we’ll post highlights from graduations at BRCC, DSLCC, LFCC, MECC, PDCCC, PVCC, and SVCC.'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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