For those of us in education, celebrating the successes of our graduates is the most wonderful time of the year, even as we acknowledge what needs to be done to continue to support and assist those who will be returning to our classrooms during the next academic session. The joy of students graduating and moving forward with their education and careers is so extremely rewarding for us but more importantly for those taking these next big steps in their lives.
On May 15, I had the privilege of being on the stage as Alexandria’s representative to the board, as Northern Virginia Community College conducted its 56th Commencement Exercises. The first students to complete their studies at NOVA, the Class of 1967, included a dozen graduates in the secretarial science and drafting fields.
By contrast, the Class of 2022 totaled more than 3,500 students eligible for graduation with approximately 1,300 participating in the ceremony which was held at the Eagle Bank Arena at George Mason University. It is estimated that more than 5,300 family members and friends attended to honor and support the new NOVA Nighthawk graduates.
Prior to the conferring of degrees and certificates by President Anne Kress, Ph.D., the graduates were encouraged to stand when various categories of graduates were announced – those who worked while attending school, those who were supporting a child or family while attending, those serving in the military and those who speak more than one language, to name a few. The graduates responded with a loud and arena-rocking “I am NOVA” as they stood to acknowledge these specific aspects of their journey and their fellow students.
Understanding that graduation speakers are an important part of the program but also someone who should be able to relate to the students, NOVA drew from its proud ranks of NOVA alums, selecting Arfa Syed, a cybersecurity graduate currently working in the defense contracting field. Syed both inspired the graduates with the story of her journey and encouraged them to continue their efforts to achieve success in whatever fields they have chosen and where life takes them.
The highlight of any graduation is the announcing of names and the conferring of degrees and certificates. As Kress formally acknowledged the class as graduates and as the procession of students came to the stage to receive the results of their hard work, I could not help but think about other graduates across the region, around the state and across the country. I must admit, my mind also wandered back to the graduation ceremonies I participated in during my career in the Alexandria City Public Schools and the wishes I had for those graduating to have an enjoyable and productive life in whatever paths they chose to pursue.
The NOVA Class of 2022 is well prepared for the next steps in their journey. The top majors for the class are business administration, IT, computer science, cybersecurity and general studies, a transfer degree. The work NOVA has done in researching workforce needs supports these as areas of high employment demand in the region and country. The education these students have received at our own community college, coupled with opportunities for continued support, is unsurpassed and will serve them well in the future.
NOVA continues to do extraordinary things for its students and our region. The opportunity to provide the knowledge and skills needed for this generation of students to excel in university classrooms and today’s workforce speaks to the success of the staff, supporters and, most importantly, the students.
Congratulations, Class of 2022!
The writer is the former principal of T.C. Williams High School, now called Alexandria City High School, a role he held from 1984 to 2006. He currently serves as Alexandria’s representative to the Northern Virginia Community College Board.