The senior United States senator from Virginia, a longtime supporter of community colleges, was the keynote speaker for TCC’s 60th Commencement Exercises, held Saturday morning at Old Dominion University’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.
“The truth is, as you sit here and celebrate the class of 2015, it’s great what you’ve done, but you didn’t get here alone,” he said. “After this ceremony, call your mother, call your father, call your girlfriend, call your husband, brother, your sister.
“Tell them thank you, and tell them you love them. Don’t tweet it, don’t email it. Actually call or write them a handwritten note and say, ‘Thank you for helping me get here.’”
Warner also lauded the college for being the second largest provider of higher education in Virginia.
“That’s huge,” he said.
The first in his family to graduate from college, Warner was valedictorian of his class at George Washington University and went on to earn his Juris Doctorate at Harvard Law School. He echoed the words of student speaker Frank Dixon, whose speech preceded his.
“You’ve got to not be afraid to fail,” he said. “I’ve probably learned more from failure than I have from success.”
Warner started two unsuccessful businesses and lived out of his car prior to co-founding Nextel and a series of other companies.
Acknowledging the trying economic and political times that leave many disenchanted with the government, Warner challenged the graduates to be agents of change and be part of the national dialogue.
“We still have an enormous responsibility to our community,” he said. “I urge you to participate in our nation’s debates, but do it in a respectful manner because we’re living in a nation today that engages in too much confrontation and too little conversation.”
Dixon, who earned a Certificate in Computer-Aided Drafting and Design Technology, received his Associate of Science in Engineering last May. He attended TCC and ODU concurrently this spring and spoke about the lessons he learned along the way.
Working low-wage jobs, he said, taught him that “Who I am has nothing to do with what other people say I am,” he said. The two-time president of the Student Government Association on the Virginia Beach Campus added, “Failing isn’t failure. If you try, I can guarantee you at some point, you will fail. It’s what you do when you fail that will determine whether or not it’s a failure.”
Warner recognized Johnessa Richard, the youngest of TCC’s graduates at age 17, for completing her Associate of Science in General Studies four weeks before she will graduate from I.C. Norcom High School. Richard is TCC’s first recipient of the Governor’s Medallion, meaning she earned an associate degree while in high school. Richard will attend Old Dominion University to major in biology this fall.
“That’s a real accomplishment,” said Warner, a proponent of allowing high school students access to federal Pell Grants to get a jumpstart on college. “We hope there’s going to be a lot more Johnessas going forward.”
TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani also celebrated Richard’s feat, noting, “What an inspirational young lady.”
Among TCC’s 1,729 graduates, 837 graduated with honors, and 183 received more than one credential. Fully 60 percent are women. Lee Mindadkis, 74, is the oldest of the class, having earned an Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology and a Certificate in Network Security.
In addition to attaining her Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant, Mary Spruill also received a diamond ring. Stepping down from his seat as Spruill exited the stage, Alex Blose knelt and proposed to Spruill. She gave him a tearful “yes” to the delight of the crowd, including some 35 friends and family seated nearby. The Smithfield couple plans an October 2016 wedding.
After crossing the stage and shaking hands with the president, graduates received their TCC Alumni Association pin, making them part of a network of 120,000 alums.
60th Commencement Exercises May 16, 2015