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NOVA grads challenged to push through obstacles as they begin next chapter

Northern Virginia Community College held its 48th Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 18, at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., with 6,861 NOVA graduates receiving degrees or certificates. This year’s student speaker was Frank Estevao Maia, while NOVA Professor Charles Errico was the Commencement speaker. Several students who had overcome significant obstacles to complete their degrees were recognized during the ceremony.

Frank Estevao Maia, a business administration student from the Manassas Campus and one of three recipients of this year’s Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, told of graduating from high school in South Africa where “high school was meant only for non-black males.” He dreamed of receiving a college education but was deported due to immigration laws immediately following high school graduation. Maia relocated to Portugal. He soon met and married his wife and the couple made their way to the United States in 2011 where he began work to fulfill his college aspirations. “NOVA was not my plan, NOVA was my opportunity,” he said. “Every one of us has an opportunity, NOVA brothers and sisters. What makes us different is our legacy. I won’t ever forget where I came from. It all started at NOVA. Don’t ever forget where you came from.”

History Professor Dr. Charles Errico (Woodbridge) spoke of graduates who worked full- and part-time jobs, and some even raised families during the time they were students at NOVA. Errico relayed a story of a former student who had come to NOVA with the lowest GPA in his high school class but had worked hard and won a scholarship to a four-year university.  “Now he is in medical school studying to become a doctor,” Errico said.

During the conferring of degrees, several graduates were highlighted, including Ariel Quiroga, whose mother accepted a posthumous degree on his behalf. Quiroga, who completed work toward his associate’s degree in liberal arts, was suddenly killed in an accident a month ago. Also recognized were Roberta 

Gills, an Alexandria student who was awarded her degree as she battles serious illness; 76-year-old Sara Ruschaupt, the 17th of 18 children and the first woman in her family to receive a college degree; as well as many others who have been working to achieve this goal of a better life.

NOVA President Robert G. Templin, Jr. encouraged students to press forward with their goals. “As you leave this commencement ceremony today you will have many choices you will need to make,” he said. “But whatever choices you make, whatever roads you choose to travel, I want you to be guided and uplifted by the spirits of the five students you have met here tonight: Ariel, whose life was cut short by a tragic accident but whose spirit of achievement and commitment lives on in each of you; Sara, who after 76 years of life, together with her granddaughter Abby, inspire us with their persistence and remind us that it is never too late to reach for a worthy goal; Roberta, who, even in the face of an unrelenting illness, inspires us by her courage and her commitment to achieve her goal; and Frank, who, though born into a world of limited opportunity, through his own steely determination, found a pathway to new possibilities here at NOVA.”

“From these five students of your graduating class, I want you to take away the spirit of determination to reach your goals, no matter how distant, no matter how hard and to never, never quit, never give up, no excuses!” Templin said.

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.