Steven Dunbar remembers a time when he was playing a pick-up game of basketball near Old Dominion University. Between shots, the guys he was with were talking about their college classes.

“That day is still so clear because I always wanted to go to college and there I was being reminded again,” Dunbar said.

Soon after, the 51-year-old enrolled at Tidewater Community College to pursue his Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts.

“I was on cloud nine when I started at TCC. I loved school all the way down to my book bag,” he said with a laugh.

Steven Dunbar at work at Aldo’s Ristorante.

Dunbar is no stranger to commercial kitchens, as he has worked at Aldo’s Ristorante, a well-known Virginia Beach restaurant, for close to three decades. He started at the bottom and has worked every job in the kitchen.

“The culinary side of my education let me know that even with all my years of experience, there was a ton I didn’t know,” Dunbar said. “The chefs at TCC shared their professional experiences and made sure we learned every skill and concept.”

Dunbar says he looked at other culinary schools but found TCC to be the most economical option with the same accredited curriculum.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, learning continued with at-home and in-person labs.

“Learning that you can meet deadlines is pretty gratifying and looking back and saying, ‘Yes! I did that,’ just feels so good,” Dunbar said. “If I could speak to students coming after me, my message is finish what you start. It’s never too late to accomplish your goals.”

This May, Dunbar’s earns his associate degree and his perseverance will be celebrated during TCC’s virtual commencement to be held on May 10 at 6 p.m. He is one of the selected students to share words of encouragement with classmates during the ceremony.

Thanks in part to his degree, Dunbar was recently made head chef at Aldo’s. He now gives back by inviting TCC students to complete required externship hours in his kitchen.

“There were times in my math and computer classes when I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said. “But here I stand. A more well-rounded individual with the degree I always wanted. I couldn’t be prouder to be a TCC grad!”

TCC’s May 2021 grads can still buy regalia through the Virginia Beach Campus and MacArthur Center Barnes and Noble at TCC. Family, friends and community supporters are encouraged to share messages with graduates at socialmedia@tcc.edu.