At Tidewater Community College’s May commencement exercises, Rachel Gee will finish what she started in 1992.
Gee, 69, will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development. She looks forward to walking in the ceremony at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on May 13.
“It’s going to be an awesome thing,” Gee said. “My children will be there, and my grandchildren will be there to see what Grammy has accomplished.”
Life frequently got in the way of school for Gee, who weathered moves, jobs and raising children since she took her first college class 25 years ago.
The Lake Charles, La., native who lives in the Western Branch section of Chesapeake, started off taking 16 credits at the old Portsmouth Campus in Suffolk while working full time for an armored car company.
But sometimes she went years without taking classes, and the woman whose license plate reads “Mama Gee” doubted if she’d ever earn that piece of paper. She retired in 2008 but maintained a passion for working with children in their formative years.
“One day it hit me that I was going to go back to school, even if it was to take one or two courses at a time,” she said.
By then, the old Portsmouth Campus had been replaced by the new one in Victory Village. It’s become like home to her.
“I enjoy the staff so much; I’ve gotten to know so many of them,” she said. “The people, the opportunity – there are so many people to help you. If you have the motivation to go somewhere, it’s like they say, you really can go anywhere.”
“Rachel was always very determined, wanting to be an excellent role model for her family,” said Jeanne Hopkins, program head for the early childhood development program on the Portsmouth Campus. “Her family is so important to her. She always exceeded expectations in her classes with me. I look forward to watching her graduate.”
Rachel Gee in her own words
Gee is finishing up classes online, a flexible option she prefers and encourages others to consider. She’s completing an internship at Churchland Academy Elementary, where she assists in first grade and works in the office as a Work-Study student. It’s an extra bonus that her 7-year-old grandson, Andrew, attends the school.
“From being here and doing so much observation, I’ve learned how needed teachers are,” she said. “A lot of times today, children don’t know because they were never taught. I’ve even had a child say, ‘Will you be my grandmother?’ I told him, ‘Of course, I’ll be your grandmother!’ All kids really want is love and a little attention.”
Gee is unsure what the future holds for her, though she’d like to continue working at the school and for the youth program at her church, New Hope Baptist Church Pughsville in Suffolk.
“Kids and the elderly are the ones who can’t defend themselves,” she said. “They need an advocate, a voice and that’s who I’d like to be.”
Gee will share graduation night with her daughter, Choi, and son, Johnny II, as well as granddaughter, Azalea, 8 and Andrew.
“But I have gobs of kids!” she said. “And I want them to know, ‘If I can do it, you can do it, too.’ Even at an old-young age, all things are possible.”