Husband and wife dynamic duo Elizabeth and James Williams are excited to walk down the aisle again, but this time the song selection will be to Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” The Williams couple, who will celebrate their first wedding anniversary in June, will graduate together during NOVA’s 52nd Spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 12.
Like many young married couples, the Williams who met on Nov. 4, 2014 at Fairfax Courthouse Plaza Shopping Center, became busy with life’s responsibilities and considered many options for a better future together. At 26, Elizabeth enrolled at NOVA’s Annandale Campus in 2015, with James to shortly follow in the summer at 31. Both admitted to being apprehensive about starting school later in life. In the end, their love and mutual support surpassed their fears and the couple started their journey as college students.
“NOVA quickly became the perfect go to place for me,” Elizabeth said. “When I first enrolled, I was really self-conscious because I felt like I was too old to go back to school at 26. I honestly felt like I didn’t belong here because everyone else seemed much younger than myself in all of my classes. James and I had just started dating around the time I was considering going back to school and he really encouraged me to go for it. I knew I wanted to do something different with my life and since taking that initial step, I’ve turned into a completely different person.”
When the couple reflect on their experiences at NOVA, both point to all levels of support they received from other students, faculty and staff. They each became very involved with campus organizations. Both are members of the Youth Christian Association (YCA) student club and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK), with Elizabeth serving as president and James as vice-president of scholarship. For the past two years, Elizabeth has worked at NOVA, currently as an education support specialist with the College’s call center and previously with parking services at the Annandale Campus. James works full-time as a local carpenter.
“Without getting involved with PTK and YCA and receiving assistance from professors and advisors, I don’t think I would have gotten this far,” said James. “There was always someone at NOVA who was there to help me every step of the way to prepare me for a better future.”
Originally from El Paso, Texas, James said he enjoyed attending NOVA with his wife. It became routine for them to often have classes around the same time, ride together to and from campus and even become each other’s lab partner in Biology 101.
“Going back to school with my wife became fun,” James exclaimed. “We always kept each other on track and held one another accountable for completing assignments and not missing classes. We became a constant source of encouragement for each other.”
“We even became a little competitive at times,” Elizabeth added. “Especially whenever James would get better grades than me and I felt like I had to step it up. He helped me a lot with my homework and class projects. Several times we were both placed on the Presidential Scholars and Dean’s lists.”
Currently residing in Annandale, Elizabeth will graduate this Saturday magna cum laude with an associate degree in business administration and James as cum laude, with an associate’s in general studies and certificate of construction supervision.
Last spring, Elizabeth began taking classes at George Mason University (GMU) to pursue her bachelor’s degree in accounting. James will follow his lovely wife to GMU this summer to start his journey toward a bachelor’s degree in individualized study, with a concentration in management and Spanish. The couple also plans to continue their studies at GMU as graduate students, with Elizabeth earning her CPA and possibly an MBA and James will enroll in the university’s accelerated master’s program to earn a degree in project management.
“The longest part of the journey is before you take your first step,” James expressed. “But as long as you start the journey, regardless of how long it takes for you to go back to school, whether you just take one class or start a full semester, the greatest feeling is realizing that one day you’ll become a college graduate.”
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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 NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.