Sometimes it can feel that you’ll never reach that coveted diploma from college. For Avis Hackett-Fortune though, this didn’t stop her diligence. After 26 years as a student with Rappahannock Community College, Avis finally was able to walk across the stage for her degree, making her the longest running active student of the College.
Before starting at RCC though, Avis had already had a long and successful life. Westmoreland native, she graduated from Washington and Lee High School, and from there started working in the government in 1974 under the FEMA program.
After leaving FEMA, she continued with a wide range of jobs, all very impressive. She worked with Farmer’s Home Administration, Fort A.P. Hill Public Affairs Office, and left the government temporarily in 1986 to return to college and work for the Westmoreland County schools.
After a year at John Tyler Community College, Avis moved back to Westmoreland where she began her long journey as a student with RCC in 1988. In that same year, she began working for the Army Corps of Engineers, where she even held an office in the Pentagon for a year until she left in 1991 to work at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren until her retirement in 2014.
At the time of her retirement, she says, “My duties there were investigating, processing paperwork for initial investigations or security clearances for the government. We had over 4,000 people [on staff], and I had to keep up with their information.”
During all of the excitement of keeping secrets for the government, Avis was still a part-time student at RCC as well as a full-time mom raising five children. After 26 years as a college student, she says, “That was the question, ‘Momma are you gonna go to school forever?’ When I graduated, they all came to wish me well and congratulate me.”
Being a student for so long, she says, “I was going to school with [my kids].” She boasts of her children and grandchildren, saying, “My granddaughter just graduated from here from the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School with a 3.9, because grandma helped her do her homework.”
Proud of her accomplishments, she says, “I’m pushing them hard to get their education.”
Avis received her Associates of Arts and Science for Business Administration the same year she retired in 2014. After three academic advisors, she says, “Prof. Ruth Greene stuck with me right to the end. She got me in the queue to get ready.”
During her years as a student, Avis remembers “when they used to have pool parties and card parties and all these little things that were in the student lounge. I would sometimes stay around just to see what was going on.”
Even after being with the College for a quarter century, she wasn’t finished with the school and came out of her retirement to work with the College as an Administrative Assistant for College Advancement. She works on the finances, including managing the checkbook paying the bills and working on the Preakness Party scholarship fundraiser.
“It’s nice meeting all the people and learning how the actual scholarships are earned, how they get the money to pay the scholarships — it’s amazing.”
Since her government jobs helped pay for her education she says, “I’m like, did they have to do all of that to help me get my payment and all that stuff through? Now I see what goes on down on the other side and it’s very interesting.”
As for her contribution to RCC, “It’s a great school … a lot of people don’t know what goes on over here.”
As a part-time substitute for Westmoreland schools, she tells the students, “Even though RCC is a community college, it gives you a start. It gives you input on what to look for. You learn how to talk to counselors, schedule your classes around your work schedule.”
During the Spring 2018 semester, she again attended RCC taking courses needed to complete her Accountant Certificate.
“You are never too old to learn,” says Avis. “Knowledge is the basis for success.”
After completing a full circle that brought her back to her beginning, she says, “As long as things keep going the way they’re going, I don’t see me leaving anytime soon. The College is an excellent place to work for.” — Mary Ashley Cline Wood