Leonardo O’Gilvie began his college career at Northern Virginia Community College quite by accident.
“I started at NOVA because I did not fully understand the college system or how to apply for college,” O’Gilvie said. “Even though this might not have been my plan from the start, coming to NOVA before moving on to a four-year institution is the best unintentional decision I have ever made.”
Originally from Jamaica, the 19-year-old arrived in the United States nine years ago and still finds situations where he doesn’t fully understand something – such as how to select a college – because he wasn’t raised in America. However, he feels his background provides him with a diverse viewpoint.
“Having experienced unique situations in Jamaica gives me the capability of thinking differently, analyzing differently and coming up with solutions to problems differently,” he said. “This is not to say I have the solution to every problem but I am able to bring a fresh perspective to the discussion.”
O’Gilvie found his niche at NOVA’s Manassas Campus through participation in several organizations. “During my first year at NOVA, I took on the role of photographer and philanthropy chair for Student Government Association in conjunction with an honors conference presentation that I was preparing. My topic dealt with trying to understand homelessness by taking a look at how we as a society treat those who are homeless,” he said.
Under O’Gilvie’s guidance, the Student Government Association made a successful year-long commitment to collecting donations for the homeless and homeless shelters. The following year, O’Gilvie was elected president of Phi Beta Lambda, a student-run organization that develops leadership, communication and teamwork skills.
“We hosted big events just for fun such as our Battle of the Bands and also held charitable events such as #TakeBackTheMic for premature births in coordination with the March of Dimes. We also advocated for social issues such as our Equal Pay Day sale where students purchased baked goods by paying the amount their race and gender earns in comparison to every dollar a white male makes. As unfair as this seemed, it did the job to raise awareness for the issue. Because of our out-of-the-box ideas we were awarded recognition as Club of the Year.”
O’Gilvie is graduating with an associate degree in business administration with high honors and has been admitted to the prestigious Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech where he plans to major in marketing with a concentration in entrepreneurship. After college he plans to start a business focused on creating positive influences for high school students.
“One of the biggest struggles for high school students in our area is that there are few activities readily available at a cheap cost and the rate of drug usage is steadily increasing mainly because kids are bored,” he said. “A lot of businesses do not see value in investing to fix this problem because they get no monetary return from it. My plan is to give teenagers a safe place where they can put their dreams into actions and grow from the experience without feeling judged.”
O’Gilvie says a long list of NOVA faculty and staff contributed to his success, including Phi Beta Lambda advisers Maryellen Ryan, Barbara Hopkins and Alisia Berry, student activities coordinators Marcie Schreibman and Cari Dresser, and numerous others at the Manassas Campus.
“Without all these people I wouldn’t have been inspired to push myself to the limits,” he said. “I was also inspired by other NOVA students. None of the Phi Beta Lambda events would have been successful without the executive board members who planned and staffed every event. I am glad I had a team of peers, staff and faculty always supporting me.”
O’Gilvie lives his Gainesville with his mother Sabrina, father Lincoln, and brother Larnelle. O’Gilvie proudly announced that his father will also complete his associate degree at NOVA this spring.
In addition to Leonardo and Lincoln O’Gilvie, more than 7,600 students are graduating from NOVA this month. NOVA’s 50th annual Commencement will be held May 14 with Dr. Jill Biden as the keynote speaker. Biden has been a full-time English professor at NOVA since 2009 while serving as Second Lady of the United States. Due to space limitations, only graduates and their guests will be admitted.
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.