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Father, two sons all earn degrees from TCC

Preeda Phongpitakvises, his three sons and wife each toted one suitcase when they came to this country after Preeda took early retirement from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. Their first home was a garage in Kempsville; they had no car and the boys spoke little English.

“My wife cried every day,” he says. “It was like living in a tuna can.”

But Preeda used the hardship to inspire his children, reminding them not to return to Thailand with empty hands. The family had come to the United States to seek opportunity in education.

TCC provided that opportunity.

On Friday, Preeda, 63, and sons Panupong, 25, and Prasitsuk, 22, graduated from TCC with associate degrees. Preeda earned an associate degree in applied science in business while his sons received associate degrees in applied science in computer engineering. Both boys plan to attend Virginia Tech, while Preeda will work toward a degree in archaeology.

“I wanted to motivate them,” Preeda says. “That’s why I started taking classes myself.”

Their journey was arduous – initially they walked and sometimes biked from Kempsville to the Virginia Beach Campus.

“We had no transportation, and there was no bus,” Preeda says. “After about a month, we finally got a car.”

Preeda says they could not have succeeded without the help of so many at TCC. They are grateful for the financial aid assistance they received and for the advice from the Virginia Beach Campus Counseling office that led them to their chosen career paths.

Panupong and Prasitsuk credit the professors with helping them through everything from their initial ESL classes to some of their most challenging computer classes.

“We came here with no English,” Prasitsuk says. “I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t write it. The big thing is the professors here got us to a point where that wasn’t at all a problem. The good thing about TCC is the professors were always willing to help.”

Preeda shares that sentiment, recalling his initial math class, Math 121. He failed the first quiz, decided to call it quits and stopped by the office of his professor, Peter Paul, to say goodbye.

“His response was, ‘No, I don’t accept it. I am here for your success. We will work together.’ ”

Preeda finished with a B in his class.

“My last day in math class was very hard for me because I had to say goodbye to my best friend, mentor and professor who taught me how to walk in the world of math with confidence,” Preeda says.

All three walked in Friday’s commencement, a milestone that is both sweet for them and bittersweet. It was a proud moment, yet all admit to wishing they didn’t have to leave the college behind.

“TCC is like my home,” Prasitsuk said. “I’ve been there. My brother is there. My dad is there. It’s time to move on, but I feel bad about leaving.”

Notes Panupong, “It has been awesome to be here. I wish we could get our bachelor’s degrees from TCC, too.”