Big smiles and resounding cheers were part of Tidewater Community College’s first in-person graduation since the start of the pandemic.
The week before Christmas, the college celebrated its newest graduates – more than 1,800 in total – at the 73rd Commencement Exercises at Chartway Arena inside Norfolk’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.
The evening graduation on Dec. 20 was presided over by President Marcia Conston.
The speaker for the graduates, Shelby Ouellette, 21, who completed an Associate of Science in Criminal Justice, is a Navy spouse who has her sights set on law school. She will continue her studies through the Honors College at Regent University.
Ouellette’s educational journey included prior failed attempts at college. “We all have to take the time to understand who we are and what we have to contribute to this world,” she said. “When I was working at Starbucks, we hosted ‘Coffee with a Cop’ and watching officers interact with the people they serve, inspired me and made me realize what I wanted to do.”
Ouellette started Spring Semester 2020 just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and TCC’s move to remote learning. “The time given to us by professors in break out rooms allowed us to get to know each other and I have never met a more unique, diverse set of students,” Ouellette said. “We stood by one another, ready to support each other.”
She added, “Take this hard-earned degree and make the most of it because we know we have what it takes to face the challenges coming our way. I’m proud of us.”
Keynote speaker Del. Jay Jones, a practicing attorney and member of the Virginia House of Delegates, encouraged students by talking about accomplishment.
“You have all experienced the glow of achievement and the realization of goals,” Jones said. “The diplomas that you will soon hold bear marks of that success.”
He continued, “A success born of late nights, many, many countless cups of coffee and a steely resolve to continue the work until that last paper was written and the last exam taken. Each of you should feel proud of whatever path you walked – or ran – to bring this moment today.”
The ceremony continued as families and friends cheered and snapped photos. Graduates crossed the stage and joined a TCC alumni network of 100,000 and counting.
If you missed graduation, you can watch the TCC livestream.