On Friday, May 9, at Rappahannock Community College’s 42nd Commencement ceremony, college officials bestowed degrees and certificates on close to 200 members of the Class of 2014 who attended the ceremony. While the official lists of graduates cannot be finalized until mid-June (after high school graduations), the total number of degrees and certificates awarded promises to be well over 645. As in previous years, this number includes students who completed their graduation requirements at the end of the Summer and Fall 2013 semesters as well as those who have just completed the Spring semester.
The credentials awarded to these graduates included Associate of Arts and Sciences degrees in Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, and Psychology/Social Worker; and Associate of Applied Science degrees in Administration of Justice, Business Management, General Engineering/Electronics, General Engineering/Industrial Electricity, and Nursing. One-year certificate programs included Accounting, Administrative Support Technology, General Education, Law Enforcement, and Practical Nursing. Career studies certificates were awarded in Administrative Professional, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Computer Application Specialist, Culinary Arts, Electrician, Emergency Medical Services, Entrepreneurship, Game Design and Development, Heating and Air Conditioning, Human Services, Industrial Electricity/Electronics, Industrial Technology, Leadership in Organizations, Microcomputer Applications, Nurse Aide, Phlebotomy, Web Design, and Welding: Arc & Gas. In addition, the ceremony recognized graduates of RCC’s Adult Education and Middle College programs, who received GED certificates.
“All good things await you,” said RCC president Dr. Elizabeth Crowther as she welcomed attendees to the open-air ceremony. She praised the hard work and team orientation of all concerned in organizing the event — “we have gone all out to give you a beautiful graduation day,” she said — and thanked faculty and staff members for the caring and support that helped the Class of 2014 to realize its goals.
Among the guests of honor joining Dr. Crowther and Dr. Donna Alexander (RCC’s vice president of instruction and student development) on the platform was keynote speaker Lance Barton, director of the Northern Neck Food Bank. Retired faculty member Dr. Karen Newtzie attended to accept the title of Professor Emeritus, and former Virginia delegate Harvey Morgan was recognized with the honorary degree of Associate of Human Letters for his service to the college and the community. The academic dean of RCC’s Glenns Campus, Robert Griffin, was the bearer of the ceremonial mace. Lucia Lloyd, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Heathsville (Northumberland County), pronounced the invocation and benediction. Gerald B. Roane, chair of the RCC College Board, and vice-chair Stephen M. Tucker, were present, as was Class of 2014 representative Monisha Holmes. Also, several members of RCC’s College Board and of the RCC Educational Foundation Board, as well as RCC Professors Emeriti Catherine Courtney, George Heffernan, and Dr. Norman Howe, attended the ceremony as members of the audience.
“I’m so happy and thrilled to be here—RCC has been a great stepping-stone for me,” said class representative Monisha Holmes. She introduced Lance Barton as the man who brought the state of Virginia its first rural food bank—one which is considered a model organization, establishing partnerships with local farmers that have made it possible to provide fresh produce not only to the immediate area, but to food banks across eastern Virginia. “After that introduction, I’m dying to hear this guy,” quipped Barton.
“So what do we have in common?” Barton asked the graduating class as he revealed that, ironically, he has never himself earned a college degree. “But don’t underestimate this soft-spoken man.” He described himself as a husband, father, and recovering heroin addict, and declared that the common ground he shared with his audience was that they had both “chosen the higher path.” He made this choice, he emphasized, not when he stopped using drugs, but when he realized that there was “more in this world than me—there was the community. Do not ever minimize your position in this world,” he exhorted. “Serving the community is not optional. It’s the basic point of each person’s existence.”
Barton then brought up the commonly-held misunderstanding that “RCC is the school for nurses and mechanics.” While making it clear that there are many other things to be learned at RCC, he urged the audience to consider the importance of these two specialties—“You put your families’ lives in a mechanic’s hands every day of your life,” he said; and “Nurses are there for you at the most vulnerable times of your life.”
“The diploma you get today is not the most important thing,” Barton said. “The most important time was when you chose to come to school. It’s not an epiphany that happens at just one point. It’s a choice you make every day.” He held up as an example an employee of his, a stereotype of the individual most likely to fail—15 years old, black, often in trouble, with a mother who had deserted him. “You will not make it,” was what all the people who knew him thought. Barton’s advice, however, was “Forget those people. Succeed, and slap them in the face with your success.” Taking the concept further, the boy asserted, “I want to succeed because of who I am, not because of their expectations.”
Barton concluded by telling the graduates, “You are my heroes. You will go on great adventures, but you will not for one moment forget how you got here.”
More than a dozen members of the Class of 2014 were called to the podium by College Board chair Gerald Roane to receive medallions recognizing them for graduating summa cum laude (with the highest honor), a distinction awarded only to those maintaining a grade-point average of 3.8 or better. Also awarded at the ceremony were the Governor’s Scholar medallions, honoring students in RCC’s dual enrollment program who completed an associate degree and a one-year certificate in General Education before graduating from high school. In addition, for the first time, the college recognized veterans of our nation’s armed forces with a distinctive red-and-white cord accenting their academic hoods, as well as a flag icon marking their names in the event program.