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NOVA celebrates fifty years of service, new start for 7,661 grads

L to R: Dr. Scott Ralls, Dr. Jill Biden and NOVA Board Chair Michael Wooten prepare to celebrate NOVA graduates
L to R: Dr. Scott Ralls, Dr. Jill Biden and NOVA Board Chair Michael Wooten prepare to celebrate NOVA graduates

Northern Virginia Community College, on Saturday, May 14, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and the achievement of 7,662 graduates and the family and friends who helped them get to the finish line. Dr. Jill Biden, second lady of the United States, who has been a full-time professor of English at NOVA since 2009, addressed the eager grads in a packed house at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va. in her last address to NOVA as second lady.

Biden opened by congratulating the graduates and extending congratulations on behalf of President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and herself.

Biden said she found herself at NOVA seven years ago as the result of a steady flow of emails from NOVA History Professor Dr. Jimmie McClellan who told her to not give up on teaching just because she was now second lady. He said she needed to keep teaching, and perhaps she might like to visit NOVA to see the many exciting things going on at the second largest community college in the nation.

“I did finally come visit, and it felt like home to me,” she said. “At the White House I have my marble office and beautiful teak furniture. At NOVA I have my…cubicle. But it is adorned with crayon drawings from my grandchildren and notes from my students. Here is where it feels most like me. Teaching is not just what I do, it is who I am. Teaching does not end when we walk out the classroom door. We cajole, counsel, mentor—whatever it takes to connect with students to succeed in school and beyond.”

And the class of 2016 did succeed! This class, as has every NOVA graduating class, contains students who have chosen to step forward and make a change in their lives. It is those who want to hone their skills or change their careers. It also contains students who have immigrated to the United States from other lands; those who are the first in their families to ever attend—or graduate—from college; those who have faced grinding poverty, have been homeless, have dealt with health crises or have faced any number of insurmountable obstacles that they were determined to scale.

There were many comparisons between the graduating class nearly half a century ago and the graduating class today: In 1967, there were 82 graduates; in 2016, 7,662. In 1967, there were 10 women; in 2016, the graduating class is 55.1% female. In 1967, there were eight degrees and one certificate. In 2016, there are 60 degree programs with dozens of specializations and certificates.

NOVA has grown across the decades to better meet the needs of its graduates and of the community.

During its fifty years, NOVA has had five presidents. Dr. Scott Ralls celebrated his first commencement since taking the presidency in September 2015.

As Ralls came to give his charge to the graduates, he promised he would make it short since it was unusually cold and windy for an evening in May. He told graduates to go out and inspire others.

“You have made NOVA what it is today,” he said. “We were called the college of opportunity; the gateway to the American Dream when we were dedicated fifty years ago. Tonight we ask you to go out and inspire others to reach their heights. And when they want to know how to get a path to where you are, tell them about a college that has fifty years of experience as the academy of opportunity and the gateway to the American Dream. Thank you NOVA. Thank you our graduates.”

For a full list of dates and times to view the full 2016 NOVA Commencement Ceremony, visit click here.

Media Contact: Kathy Thompson | 703.764.0896 | kthompson@nvcc.edu

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.

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