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Northern Virginia Community College Holds its 53rd Commencement Ceremony and Celebrates with Stories of Inspirational Students

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) will hold its 53rd Commencement ceremony for graduates and award 3,512 degrees on Friday, May 17 at 10 a.m. at Jiffy Lube Live located at 7800 Cellar Door Dr., Bristow, Va.

This year, the college honors outstanding students who have broken barriers and overcome obstacles in their pursuits of higher education – truly celebrating the College’s theme of, “Believe, Aspire and Achieve.”  These graduates come from 97 different countries, 64% are from a diverse or ethnic minority background, more than half are females and 22.6% are first generation in college students.  NOVA’s oldest graduate is 71 years old.

The guest speaker this year is NOVA’s very own alum, Guylaine Saint Juste – or as many fondly refer to her as, Guy.  After completing her associate degree at NOVA, she went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and a graduate degree in retail banking management at the University of Virginia. 

As the current Executive Director of the nonprofit Year Up National Capital Region, Guy serves the Washington Capital region by closing the Opportunity Divide for hundreds of talented young adults in the area, connecting them to meaningful careers in business and technology. The organization provides participants with the skills, experience and support they need to reach their full potential in professional careers and in higher education.  Guy leads all aspects of programming, corporate engagement, philanthropy, college partnership, board management and development at Year Up.  She has grown the organization from serving 250 in 2015 to being on target to serve 450 young adults by 2019. 

Guy gave up a career in banking to be a part of Year Up’s philanthropic mission.  She has held various high level leadership positions in banking, including serving as the Business Banking Virginia Market Executive at Capital One from 2011 to 2015.  She currently serves as an appointed commissioner to the Arlington Economic Development Authority and Co-Chair of the Workforce Solutions Committee for the Board of Trade.

The inspirational stories that will be highlighted and shared will commemorate the journey of overcoming adversity by such talented students such as Taima Al-Iriani, Niketas Koussis, Narges Safdari, Racheal Milam and Shelby Young.  The challenges that these graduates have experienced and the goals that they have achieved are unique; just like the type of extensive programming and student services that are offered at NOVA.

  • Taima Al-Iriani, a refugee from Yemen sought asylum in the United States through the assistance of the State Department after civil war broke out in her home-country.  She lives independently without her family, but has pushed herself to succeed and fulfill her aspirations of becoming a human rights lawyer.  She is graduating with a 3.933 GPA and will be attending her first choice school, the University of Virginia, to pursue a Bachelor’s in Mathematics.  As a recipient of Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, she will be receiving $40,000 a year for three years to complete her degree. 

  • Niketas Koussis, is a distinguished leader of two critical student organizations at the college; Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society and Phi Beta Lambda.  He will be attending University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce in the fall.  Niketas and his mother struggled with homelessness for five years from his seventh to tenth-grade years, but on May 17, he is graduating with honors.  Koussis will be assisted in his pursuits of higher education with an All-USA Academic Team Scholarship of $5,000 in conjunction with a 2019 New Century Transfer Pathway Scholarship of $2,250.

  • Shelby Young, a bright young singer with Broadway dreams, started competing at the state and national level and will be now be competing internationally.  She will journey to Australia to be a part of the 2019 Young Adult Honors Performance Series at the Sydney Opera House from July to August.   The series only accepts 80 students out of 12,000 applicants from all over the world.   In the fall, she will be attending George Mason University to complete a Bachelor’s in Music and Performance for Voice.

  • Narges Safdari, who led the NOVA Medical Education Campus Dental Hygiene Club as its president will be graduating this month, but will continue the programming as a tutor for other students.  As a former Marine; she is no stranger to extreme demands, and she looks forward to her next pursuit after completing licensing protocol.  She will continue to take Spanish courses at the Loudon campus.  As a single mother, she is very involved in her two children’s school activities, and the courses she has taken at NOVA will provide her with the ability to work in the dental office in Fairfax with more flexible hours, allowing her to be available for her family.  
  • Brandon Christiansen focused his affinity for computer gaming, hardware, and troubleshooting computer issues to grow into a network administrator role while serving in the Marines. Alongside his primary duties as a calibration technician, Brandon was the network administrator at two separate facilities in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. After completing his active duty service and holding several technology-oriented positions in the local area, Brandon chose to further his skills as a veteran student at NOVA, where he has earned an associate degree in cybersecurity. He will be attending George Washington University's cybersecurity bachelor's program in the fall, and has simultaneously accepted a job offer at Leidos supporting a Department of Homeland Security contract.   

  • Rachel Milam, another former military veteran has utilized her G.I. Bill from the Air Force to complete two degrees at NOVA; one in general studies and the other in paralegal studies.  She plans on becoming a lawyer to facilitate the dialogue amongst lawmakers and policy writers for veteran’s rights – in fact, she testified before congress on a panel about her military police experience.  Milam will be attending American Military University in pursuit of a Bachelor’s of Legal Studies in the fall, and she will also be a guest student at George Mason University. She attributes her success to the campus’ distinguished Veteran and Military Program Advisors who have frequently checked in with her as she navigated going back to school after 10 years of service all while raising her young daughter as a single mother.

Many of these students have utilized their own personal challenges as a competitive edge to find success at NOVA and beyond. This is just a small group of graduates from NOVA, many more students and inspiring stories are yet to come.

To see Guylaine Saint Juste’s video about being a guest speaker at NOVA’s commencement, click the video link below.



Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.