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Portsmouth Campus students see politics up close in Richmond

They talked face-to-face with delegates and senators in the General Assembly, took pictures inside of the state capitol and learned about the legislative process from the inside out.

About 30 students from Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus saw history and politics up close thanks to Virginia Community College System Legislative Day on Jan. 15. Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach students will have their opportunity to travel to Richmond later in the semester. 

“I am in awe,” said student Morris Elliott, snapping photos from Del. Lionel’s Spruill’s office and gazing out the window at the spectacular view of the capitol dome.

The morning started with a briefing from Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn Dubois, who told students inside the Library of Virginia, “If community college hadn’t given me a chance, a launching pad, I would never, ever have had this career.”

legislative days portsmouth
TCC Portsmouth students on the Capitol steps.

Prior to walking across Broad Street to the General Assembly, students were treated to a brief history lesson from library staff, getting to see a petition from 1786 from a slave wanting his freedom, an 1861 ordinance from Virginia asking for secession and a signed letter from Thomas Jefferson.

“I got the chance to hold history,” Elliott said afterward.

At the General Assembly, Provost Michelle Woodhouse divided the students into groups. Some met with Spruill (D-Chesapeake) and Del. Matthew James (D-Portsmouth), while others talked with Del. Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth) and Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), whose district includes part of Portsmouth. Spruill shared his background, which included growing up with 16 brothers and sisters and having to overcome a speech impediment.

“Don’t tell me what you can’t be,” Spruill said. “Don’t give up on life, please. The community college concept is the way to go. You can go anywhere you want to go.”

Joannou stressed the cost-effectiveness of a community college education, asking how many of the students planned to transfer to four-year institutions.

The legislators stressed their support of higher education funding and took time for questions. Each legislator was presented with a TCC sweater vest.

“I enjoyed the whole experience; I’ve never been here before,” said student Pamela Rhodes. “My favorite part was seeing how hard and busy the legislators and their staff work. I’m really happy Ms. Locke took time out to take a picture with me.” 

Added student Heather Trail, “Today we got to see a lot of behind-the-scenes things that happen that I never paid attention to before.”

At lunch, students were joined by LaVonne Ellis and Bruce Meyer, both on the State Board for Community Colleges; Connie Meyer, who serves on TCC’s board; Sheryl Moody Reddington, legislative aide to Joannou; and Barrett Stork, government affairs manager for Cox Communications.

Bruce Meyer, a TCC alumnus, told the students that, as Virginia citizens, they are welcome anytime to visit their representatives in the General Assembly. “They work for you,” he said.