“I was very sharp but never did any work to show it because that wasn’t cool,” he says. “I never did my best because I wanted to fit in, and the older crowd I was with wasn’t academically inclined.”
Wright, officially the Honorable Wright, says these words from his office at Portsmouth City Hall. He is mayor of the city. He is owner of his own business. He is a first-generation college graduate.
What changed his life? Tidewater Community College, he says. “My time there was transformational.”
Wright didn’t have any direction when he showed up at the old Portsmouth Campus in the fall of 1981. That’s where a counselor told him he needed several math and chemistry remedial courses before beginning the associate degree process.
But Wright knew once he applied himself, he could do the work. He flourished in the remedial courses before jumping into calculus with analytical geometry. An affable professor who wore deck shoes minus the socks to show off his love of boating connected with Wright, who excelled in the class.
“I was determined,” Wright says. “I went on this journey to fix what I had messed up all those years.”
Thanks to meeting a pretty girl, Wright opted to sign up for a mechanical drawing class, where he also thrived.
“I had a couple of friends in the class who needed my help,” he says. “No one had ever asked for my help before.”
One friend worked in the design department of the Newport News Shipyard and encouraged Wright to apply for a job there. Wright got the job and began working at the shipyard by day while continuing his education at night.
“Suddenly, because of TCC, I realized I had potential,” he says. “I became obsessed with taking classes and doing well because I knew what I had wasted.”
Wright met TCC Professor David Steinhauer, who introduced him to what is now AutoCad, the industry standard in design, modeling and engineering.
“He helped me shape my vision of design, engineering and mathematics,” Wright says. “I loved it.”
Wright went on to apply to the Newport News Apprentice School, and a few classes shy of his associate degree at TCC, finished up at Thomas Nelson Community College because of its proximity to the shipyard. Nonetheless, he considers TCC his alma mater, too, along with Old Dominion University, where he earned his bachelor’s in 1991.
“I was so pleased that TCC would take a kid like me and allow me to realize what my potential was,” he says.
Wright Engineering & Design has been in business since 1999, providing design and engineering support for the construction and manufacturing industry. Wright has been mayor of Portsmouth since 2010.
When Wright lunched with former TCC president Deborah DiCroce before she retired, he told her how relevant the words “From here, go anywhere” were to his life.
“From TCC, you can go anywhere,” he says. “That’s my story. I owe TCC so much.”