Catara DillardFive years ago, Catara Dillard didn’t do her own laundry or iron her own clothes back home in Martinsville, Va. Her grandmother even ran bath water for her every night.

Today Dillard will graduate from Tidewater Community College with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. She will study at Sentara Health College in the fall with plans to become a surgical tech. In her last three years at TCC, she has blossomed from a shy, reticent kid to a confident, mature woman – one who doesn’t hesitate to give classroom presentations, campus tours or even the graduation address for TCC’s 57th commencement on Dec. 20 at Old Dominion University’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.

“I have come a long way,” she says with pride.

Dillard credits her experience at TCC along with the fellowship she found at Sanctuary of Hope Church in making her who she is today.

“No matter where you came from – your past, the things that have happened to you – there’s always a better place to go, and it’s your choice,” says Dillard, who will reflect that sentiment in her graduation address. “The motto is correct. From here, you really can go anywhere. My past wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t dictate who I am today.”

Dillard arrived in Hampton Roads almost accidentally, after being inspired by a family friend who she surprised with a visit. During the visit, she spent one memorable Advent Sunday at the Portsmouth church that is such an integral part of her life today. During the service, three drunken parishioners walked in midway through and sat down in a pew. She expected them to be chased away, but instead they were embraced and welcomed. One sang, “O Holy Night” to her, a rendition she’ll never forget.

“Today I call them my three kings,” she says. “They taught me humility, that I need to count my blessing. These three people were OK and then addiction came into their life. I didn’t have a perfect childhood, but God put awesome people in my path.”

The man who would later become her fiancé encouraged her to attend TCC as he had. Dillard found a comfort level at the college she never imagined, in part due to the classroom and also thanks to her part-time job in the Office of Student Activities on the Portsmouth Campus.

“The professors here have been really awesome,” Dillard says. “I probably have half of their phone numbers.”

Working under Katina Barnes, Dillard flourished. Initially, Barnes recalls a kid regularly in basketball shorts who was reserved and unsure of herself.

“I quickly learned that she was a shining star with so much potential,” Barnes said. “I began giving her assignments that required her to use her talents and gifts. She is resourceful, insightful, discerning and compassionate. What I admire about Catara is that she cares about people genuinely. She has her eye on the prize and every decision she makes large or small, is directed toward her prize.”

Dillard looks forward to sharing what she has learned with her fellow graduates. “TCC made me independent,” she says. “And not just because I now do my laundry!”
 

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