Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2019

This spring, more than 30,000 students proudly participated in VCCS commencement exercises across the state, including Ashley Neil of Bath County, above, who received a standing ovation when she walked across the stage with the help of her brother and a walker, to receive her diploma from DSLCC President John Rainone.

In the second of two parts, here are highlights from this year’s graduation speaker addresses:


“Now that your college has prepared you to move forward in life, never doubt your ability and determination. Wherever you go, go with all your heart,” said Khizr Khan, speaker at Piedmont Virginia Community College’s commencement May 16.

Khan is a constitutional rights advocate and a Gold Star parent. Two of his children attended Piedmont, including his son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 in Iraq.
“Remain engaged in your communities and to those who need you, step forward to help them. By doing so you uplift not only those whom you help, but yourself.

“Your college, PVCC, has prepared you to continue on this life’s journey, so create your own opportunities. You can wait for opportunities. Or you can go out there and create your own opportunities. The latter is definite and much more empowering.”


“It’s not so much about how many degrees or titles you gain, but it’s about how you represent those titles. Your choices, your actions, your life can change the world,” said Joyce Colemon, keynote graduation speaker at Blue Ridge Community College.

A career educator, Colemon has a long association with BRCC and is president of the Waynesboro branch of the NAACP.

“Life is a journey. Take time to give, serve and uplift others along the way. There will be ups and downs, but always encourage yourself.

“Life is a game; play it,” said Colemon. “Whatever you do, play the game fair and square. Life is more than winning or losing. Life is a gift; A precious gift.”


“Earlier this year, higher education was hit by a cheating scandal, when some celebrities and rich folks paid huge bribes to get their kids into expensive universities,” Robin Sullenberger, chairman of the VCCS State Board, told graduates at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College.

“But you’ll notice I don’t call those people or universities ‘elite,’ because that term doesn’t apply here. There’s nothing ‘elite’ about cheating your way through life.

“What’s ‘elite’ is the crowd I see here,” said Sullenberger. “I think people who earned the right to wear those caps and gowns are elite. And your new skills and greater knowledge you’ll bring to your community…that’s what I call ‘elite.’”


“If anyone had told me a few years ago that I would be a speaker at my own college graduation, I would never have believed it,” said Vicki Pearcy, during commencement ceremonies at Mountain Empire Community College.

Pearcy, a self-described “non-traditional” student, decided to seek her degree after raising two sons. She’s also MECC’s assistant registrar.

“In the Bible in the Book of Proverbs, the ant is one of the four little things on the earth that is small but exceedingly wise. The ant anticipates the coming winter and tirelessly works to be prepared.

“Each of us had a different story that led us here today,” said Pearcy. “But together, we have completed our assignments, written essays, met those dreaded 11:59 p.m. deadlines, and anxiously anticipated test scores. This reminds me of the little ant…her load might be heavy at times, but she continues to work toward the goal of storing food for the days ahead. It is through her diligence and perseverance that she succeeds, and so have we.”

“Never use the word ‘just’ to describe any part of your life. Your accomplishments are worth celebrating, because not ‘just’ anyone can choose such greatness,” said Olivia Henderson, student graduation speaker at Lord Fairfax Community College on May 11.

Henderson is a part-time hairstylist who admits she had to be talked into pursuing a college education. Now, with her associate degree in hand, she will transfer to George Mason in the fall.
“Even in this great big world, we are never alone. If we look around right now, we will see living proof we are, and have always been surrounded by people who value us.”


“Be confident in yourself. Confidence is not an emotion,” added Henderson. “No matter what social situation you’re in, you will be OK. And instead of fearing your mistakes, laugh at them. Instead of dwelling on them, learn from them and move on.”

“Twelve years ago, I was an African Girl who moved to this country. Today, I am not only that, I am an American citizen, a family services specialist with Franklin City Department of Social Services, and the director of operations at a nonprofit organization,” said Alice Adoga, alumna speaker at Paul D. Camp commencement ceremonies May 10.

A 2011 graduate at PDCCC, Adoga’s move to the U.S. from Nigeria was transformative and she challenged her audience to embrace change and growth.

“If a caterpillar never transformed into a butterfly, it will always be seen as a caterpillar and no one will ever know its true beauty, or people will define it as they see fit. Each and every one of us in this room has to go through physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual stages of transformation. We are able to make adjustments, changes, and grow beyond our own expectations and the expectations of others.


“Transforming ourselves requires us to change our mindset,” added Adoga. “Our mind is the birthplace of the magic we become. If you have a positive mindset, you are bound to have positive outcomes.”

“It is a great honor to give this address. And I promise that I do not take it lightly. Also, what were you thinking?”


2019 Nursing graduate Steven Franklin brought his Cajun humor to the speaker’s lectern during graduation at Southside Virginia Community College May 11. Describing himself as “closing in on 40,” Franklin said it’s never too late to learn.

“Don’t let this be the end. This is the beginning of your journey. Everything from this day forth, you have this moment to look back on and say ‘I did that? Well then, I can do this.’

“That internal motivation keeps you going,” added Franklin. “Nobody, and I mean, nobody can stop that motivation inside. Nobody can stop that drive. Nobody can tell you that you can’t do something because — at this point, we know for a fact that you can.”

Read highlights from other VCCS 2019 spring graduations here.'

Jim Babb

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

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