Anxiety in check. Depression under control. Graduate of Tidewater Community College with plans to become a teacher and a lot more skilled in ballroom dancing than he ever dreamed.
That is Will Miller, who will walk across the stage at Old Dominion University’s Ted Constant Convocation Center on Dec. 20 to receive his associate of science degree. He plans to transfer to Old Dominion for the fall semester to pursue a career as an elementary schoolteacher.
“I have a lot of people from TCC to thank,” said Miller, whose confidence soared in part because of what he learned from two faculty members at the college: history professor David Neff and ballroom dancing instructor Erika Phillips.
Miller enrolled in TCC in 2007 after graduating from Friends School in Virginia Beach. He didn’t have a direction and dabbled in classes in search of a career path. One of his roadblocks was anxiety, including the same test anxiety that hindered him in high school.
“I would study and I would get really nervous while I was studying,” he says. “When I would actually sit down to take the test, I’d be blank, and everything would go away. I would sit there and start shaking.”
Neff was a help, sharing techniques that included reading the material aloud as if the test was being given verbally.
Miller disliked speaking in front of large groups. While his public speaking class helped, he gained more confidence when he signed up for Phillips’ ballroom dancing class as his physical education elective.
“I was able to interact with more people, and none of us knew what we were doing at first,” he says. “I didn’t know I’d end up really liking it and have the bug to learn more.”
At his lowest point, Miller felt his world crumbling and couldn’t shake the belief that he was disappointing others. He was plagued by suicidal thoughts. Encouragement from his mother – who graduated from TCC a year ago with an associate of science – pulled him through the trying period.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome it,” he said.
Neff and Phillips were confidants, too.
Neff says he often sees students struggling as Miller did, and he encourages them to find support through TCC whether it be via a professor or counselor. Too often, he says, students don’t take advantage of all the resources TCC offers. As for Miller, he noted, “I watched him grow up before my eyes.”
Miller said the birth of his first niece, Amelia, last November, “a ray of sunshine,” also helped him refocus.
“I’m glad I stayed around because I want to see her grow up,” he says. “I realized I was close to graduating, and I got my inspiration back.”
Miller relishes the idea of sharing what he learned at TCC with others. He discovered his affinity for teaching after giving presentations in history classes, and he believes he has the tools – patience, energy and enthusiasm – to mentor younger children.
“TCC gave me more time to blossom and figure out who I was meant to be,” he said. “Now that I’m finally here, it’s a euphoric feeling.”