Skip navigation

From Russia to a good life in America

Katerina Diatlova came to the United States from Russia with a passport, suitcase and $80 in her pocket.

All of her life she was desperate for the American dream, watching endless episodes of “Hannah Montana” and “Gossip Girl.”

She was part of the International Exchange Visitors Program initially, but the dream faded when the opportunities were out of reach.

“My family was 10,000 miles away. I had no friends, no car, no prospects of a good job,” she said. “I tried to fill the loneliness by partying, going hard and staying up all night. When I was making poor life choices there were people all around me. But I still felt lonely and worse about myself because of my choices.”

In addition, Katerina, 28, was in a dead-end service job and saw no way to a better life. Looking back, she says that she lost her sense of purpose. And she’d almost lost all hope.

But that all changed the day she walked into the admissions office at Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus and a kind staffer helped her fill out an application and enroll in classes.

“That was the day that my whole life turned around. I don’t remember that woman’s name, but she believed in me, making it possible for me to go in a new direction. I know she was just doing her job, but I’m very grateful.”

Katerina started studying Business Administration but switched gears and pursued a degree in web development. This May she is one of the thousands of TCC graduates earning degrees and certificates during Commencement on May 8.

“While taking classes at TCC, the professors showed me the way to live. They were good examples and gave me direction without really knowing it. I just emulated their lives,” Katerina said.

Katerina earned a perfect 4.0 GPA at TCC and was part of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“Years ago, I was not a good student and now I understand why. I wasn’t drawn to any subject. But when I found web development and coding, it was like learning a new, fascinating language and I was hooked.”

Katerina says she owes much of her success to her professors. “All of my teachers were willing to go out of their way to help. They made sure I was keeping up with the concepts. My interactions with them was my favorite part of the journey,” she said.

Katerina sends a shout-out to Professors Cesar Barbieri, Christopher Boyle, Gary Noah and Jared Oliverio for their patience, kindness and for sharing their passion for the subjects they teach.

While at TCC, Katerina was a volunteer for Computers for Student Success. She learned how to build computers and salvage parts. “This program is a win-win for students. Nothing is wasted. Those who need computers get them, and computer students learn and advance their skills.”

Katerina plans to be a software developer and would like to create and maintain websites. She is currently building her portfolio.

She is newly married to Matthew Thompson and has a community of friends that have become like family.

“People underestimate community college, but I know it’s a place to make your dreams happen,” Katerina said. “Words can’t really describe what TCC has provided. For me it was absolutely life changing.”

TCC student awarded top state scholarship

Damien Algernon, a Tidewater Community College student, is this year’s New Century Transfer Pathways Scholarship awardee for the state of Virginia.

Selected out of two hundred applicants, Algernon will receive a $2,250 scholarship.

Algernon was recognized on April 3 at the American Association of Community Colleges conference, held in Denver, Colo., during the President’s Breakfast event.

“We are proud of Damien for this tremendous accomplishment and grateful to be part of his academic journey,” said TCC President Marcia Conston. “Damien’s work ethic and perseverance will certainly take him far in his career and life.”

The New Century Pathway Scholarship program is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, the American Association of Community Colleges and Phi Theta Kappa.

Algernon, 18, started at TCC while a sophomore at Salem High School in Virginia Beach. As a dual enrollment student, he got a head start on college, earning his associate degree one year after his high school diploma.

“When the pandemic hit, I had a lot of free time and nowhere to go,” Algernon said. “I decided to take some college courses and found it easy to engage and throw myself into my studies.”

Algernon said that he discovered his life’s passion while at TCC, after taking his first astronomy class. “I always enjoyed chemistry but found a passion for the stars and sky while at TCC.”

Algernon is earning an Associate of Science in Science this May. He plans to continue at a university to study Astro chemistry. He plans to work his way toward a Ph.D. and one day be a researcher and university professor.

While at TCC, Algernon was an intern at NASA, a place where he hopes to work again one day.

TCC Dean of Student Life Emily Hartman with Algernon.

“TCC is a place of opportunities,” Algernon added. “My time at the college helped me discover a career path I’m excited about. But more importantly, it was a place to grow and find out who I am.”

TCC student is published in national literary journal

Tidewater Community College student Megan Pastore discovered her passion for writing in Rick Alley’s creative writing class. She enjoyed the writing prompts as they sparked her creativity and ultimately earned her national recognition.

“I feel a sense of joy and passion that I didn’t know I could feel,” Megan said. “I have a purpose outside of being a wife and mother. I don’t know where this is going to take me, but I know I want to teach creative writing workshops in the community and one day teach at the college level, hopefully at TCC.”

Megan was one of twenty-eight Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) members who had their writing published in the 2021 issue of PTK’s online literary journal, “Nota Bene.” PTK is the honor society for two-year schools.

“Nota Bene” showcases the outstanding writing of community college students. More than 440 entries were submitted to the 2021 competition, which is judged by current and retired college faculty and staff from across the country. The digital issue will be available on this winter.

Megan received “Nota Bene’s” highest honor, the Ewing Citation Award of $1,000, for her short story, “Brother Fox.” The award is named in honor of the late Nell Ewing, a long-time PTK staff member, and goes to the author of the competition’s most outstanding entry.

“TCC was a perfect place for me,” Megan said. “With young and older students, career changers, it was a beautiful place to find myself and the support of my professors was phenomenal.”

Megan earned her associate degree at TCC in May 2021 and is continuing her studies at Old Dominion University where she is pursuing a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing. She hopes to also pursue a master’s in fine arts. She would one day like to be a published author.

“I know I’m meant to help other writers find their voice,” Megan added. “I wouldn’t be here today without the support of my TCC professors who encouraged me and told me that I had a voice. They planted those seeds and gave me the confidence to pursue this dream.”

TCC student named to the All-USA Academic Team and is a New Century Pathway Scholar

Scholarship winner Olivia Brichter has a message for Professor Manisha Trivedi.

“I’m sending you a big fat thank you for taking the time, for believing in me, for all of it,” said Brichter, who will graduate from Tidewater Community College in May with an Associate of Science in General Studies.

Brichter was named to the 2020 All-USA Academic Team, a competition sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa. Based on the score she earned, she was named a New Century Pathway Scholar in Virginia.

She will receive a total of $7,250 in scholarship funds to pursue her bachelor’s in neuroscience at Roanoke College.

Seizures and attention deficit hyperactive disorder made learning nearly impossible until Brichter met Trivedi, TCC’s 2018 Professor of the Year. The pair connected weekday mornings to review materials for Brichter’s biology and anatomy and physiology classes. Trivedi helped with strategies for learning like reading the material aloud and writing difficult concepts on a whiteboard.

“Ms. T showed me that I could learn and built my confidence. I give her a lot of credit for my success,” Brichter said.

Brichter also received support through the Open Door Project, a program that offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

Brichter helped launch the Norfolk Campus Dream (Disabilities, Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring) Club, a local chapter of the national group. Working with campus leaders, she started Dream to bring students with disabilities and mental health needs together to support each other.

She also worked as a work-study student in the Norfolk Campus advising office, helping other students write their own success stories.

“It’s been a highlight helping students also struggling to find their way,”  Brichter said. “I’ve been able to share my story with so many people coming through our doors. My message is simple: get involved and take every opportunity to help yourself and others.”

Brichter’s journey at the college started a decade ago, so moving on is bittersweet.

“We’re a family on Norfolk Campus,” she said. “The people here helped me come out of my shell, built my confidence and gave me a new direction.”

Brichter hopes to pay it forward by working with children with special needs and doing research in neuroscience.

Financial aid and scholarships help Brichter pay for college. She also received two TCC scholarships: the Tryntje and Norman Willcox Endowed Memorial Scholarship and the Norfolk Campus General Scholarship.

Scholarship applications are open now for TCC students. To learn about scholarships that can help you reach your academic goals, visit

From here, student speaker planning to aim high for next stop, Virginia Wesleyan

Charleston Yancey fell in love with Virginia Wesleyan University the first time he toured the campus. After graduating from Tidewater Community College on May 13, he will transfer there with junior class standing thanks to a new agreement.

Yancey, student speaker for TCC’s 68th Commencement at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, leaves with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The Norfolk native will be able to concentrate on coursework for his major, as all his general education requirements from TCC transfer due to the Fair Transfer Guarantee Agreement, signed in February.

Charleston Yancey at Virginia Wesleyan
Charleston Yancey at Virginia Wesleyan University.

“TCC is a transformative school,” he said. “I met so many people who come here and don’t know where to go. They leave here and become driving forces in the community.”

Yancey, who holds a 3.9 GPA and served in multiple leadership positions for the Norfolk Student Government Association, said he feels well prepared for what’s ahead. The 20-year-old benefitted from the Open Door Project, which provides support services for first generation college students.

“The staff there kept me motivated,” said Yancey, admittedly passionate about all things TCC. “From the teachers who work in the building to everyone at Open Door to the people involved in student life, it’s a beautiful thing.”

The skills he learned in his student development class, which focuses on creating good study habits, laid the foundation for an accolade-filled academic year.

Nominated to the 2019 Phi Theta Kappa All-Virginia Academic Team, Yancey finished in the top 10 for the state, earning him a $500 scholarship. He was also awarded the Barnes and Noble Textbook Scholarship for Norfolk Campus.

Yancey has never been shy talking in front of others. His father, Charles, is pastor at Love of Life Assembly Yahawah’s Temple of Praise, and Charleston has spoken from the pulpet since he was 10. He developed an even deeper love of public speaking at TCC under Professor Jaclyn Randle.

“She’s the greatest teacher I ever had,” he said.

Yancey also credits communications professor Mark Frederick with helping him develop different techniques to engage an audience.

From here, he plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology and work as a counselor and motivational speaker while remaining active in ministry.

“I have dedicated my life to being one who uplifts and inspires others,” he said.  “I have vowed to use my mouth as a tool that will speak life into all those that feel lifeless. My message has been and will always be that you are worth the success that you are fighting for. I may not know each graduate personally, but I do know that everyone has a story. I want to remind them that no matter how their story began, it is the conclusion of their story that matters the most.”

Nine from TCC earn recognition from All-Virginia Academic Team

Nine Tidewater Community College students have been nominated to the Phi Theta Kappa 2019 All-Virginia Academic Team.

They are Dakota Bernacki and Katelyn Solis from the Chesapeake Campus; Charleston Yancey and Jeffrey White from the Norfolk Campus; Cynthia Law and Jordan Caravas from the Portsmouth Campus; and Alethea Lim, Christopher Metzger and Jason Yarbrough from the Virginia Beach Campus.

They will represent the college this spring when Virginia’s Community Colleges will recognize them and other team members from across the state at an awards luncheon in Richmond. From that group of community college students, 10 will be eligible for national awards.

Dakota BernackiDakota Bernacki

 Homeschooled through high school, the Windsor resident graduated from TCC in December 2018 with an Associate of Science in Engineering and a 4.0 GPA. Bernacki worked at his small “geek squad” business while earning his degree. “My professors were phenomenal,” he said. “It wasn’t easy — it’s engineering — but it was definitely worth it. Starting at TCC was the right choice for me.” Bernacki will work toward his bachelor’s in computer engineering from Old Dominion University or Virginia Commonwealth University this fall.

Jordan CaravasJordan Caravas

The Smithfield High School graduate is earning her Associate of Science in Science. She holds a 3.8 GPA and plans to transfer to Christopher Newport University to work toward her bachelor’s in organismal biology when she graduates in May. “I really like it here,” she said of TCC. “They have everything I need here; classes have been great.”

Cynthia LawCynthia Law

The first generation college student will graduate with her Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice in May and will remain at TCC to complete her Associate of Science in Social Sciences. Law initially wanted a career in forensics, but her work-study job at TCC opened her eyes to something that interested her more. “I really want to do something hands-on with people, and I love children,” said Law, who holds a 3.89 GPA and plans to transfer to Old Dominion.

Alethea LimAlethea Lim

The Landstown High School graduate will finish with an Associate of Science in Science and an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The student ambassador on the Virginia Beach Campus holds a 4.0 GPA and plans to transfer to Old Dominion this fall and major in biology. “TCC offered me a full scholarship paying for my tuition,” she said. “The college has given me more opportunities to learn while giving back to my community. I really enjoy how personal the professors can be and how understanding they are.”

Christopher Metzger

The Richmond resident will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Management. Metzger chose the TCC program because it is accredited by the licensing body for health information management. “I’m looking to do data analytics or something with medical research,” he said. He holds a 4.0 GPA and is planning for a future in the Sentara system.

Katelyn SolisKatelyn Solis

The Great Bridge High graduate came to TCC with no firm career goals. Now she plans to be an anesthesiologist. She will graduate in May with an Associate of Science in Science and a 3.7 GPA. She works as a pharmacy technician and volunteers with Edmarc Hospice for Children. She plans to transfer to Virginia Tech to earn her bachelor’s in biology and later apply to medical school. “I encourage students to take advantage of everything TCC has to offer,” she said. “I found a lot of help with the First Year Success advisors and at the Learning Assistance Center, where tutoring is free.”

Jeff WhiteJeffrey White

 Unsure about his career goals, the pro tem of Norfolk’s Student Government Association took a year off to travel abroad before coming to TCC. He found his path and earned a 4.0 GPA and an Associate of Science in Science in December 2018. Now studying biology at Morehouse College, White plans to attend medical school and pursue a career as an endocrinologist.

Charleston YanceyCharleston Yancey

 The vice president of Norfolk’s Student Government Association will graduate in May with his Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The Norfolk native developed a love of public speaking at TCC in Professor Jaclyn Randle’s public speaking class. “She the greatest teacher I ever had,” he said. “My time at TCC has been transformative, and I benefitted a lot from taking her class.” Yancey, who holds a 3.85 GPA, plans to transfer to Virginia Wesleyan University.

Jason YarbroughJason Yarbrough

 The hospital corpsman from the U.S. Navy graduated with his Associate of Science in Science last fall and will graduate with an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts in May. He is already enrolled at Old Dominion where he is pursuing a bachelor’s with a pre-med concentration. “My experience with TCC has been nothing but positive,” he said. “I thoroughly appreciate the way the availability of classes is administered. The scheduling allows for nontraditional students, like me, convenience and range. The professors are also very mindful of their students’ time beyond the classroom, cooperate when needed, and are more than understanding of certain unforeseeable circumstances.”  Yarbrough holds a 4.0 GPA at TCC.

She didn’t have a bed, enough food or even a car. At TCC she found a home and a future

Jeanine Anderson isn’t going to walk at Tidewater Community College’s graduation.

“I’m going to dance,” she says jubilantly.

On Dec. 17, she will accept her Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. She’s tacking on an additional semester of classes to complete her Associate of Science in Science, which will allow her to transfer to Old Dominion University next fall.

Anderson, 45, triumphed over living out of a car only to have it towed away with most of her belongings inside. She’s been hungry enough to rationalize pouring a pint-sized can of sausages into her purse while inside a discount store.

She’s found creative ways to get to class minus reliable transportation. She regularly made her way to the Portsmouth Campus hours before her 8 a.m. class so she could catch a ride with a friend en route to his shipyard job.

When the New Jersey native didn’t have money to join Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), she mopped floors until she saved up the $85.

Anderson arrived at TCC broken and leaves it whole thanks to a village of mentors and resources that contributed to her journey. She rattles off the names of women who are mentors – administrators Karen Moore and Okema Branch, deans Dana Singleton and Jenefer Snyder and Provost Michelle Woodhouse.

Jeanine Anderson with mentor Dana Singleton.
Jeanine Anderson with mentor Dana Singleton.

“I finally feel like I am in a place where nobody wants to hurt me,” Anderson says. “Nobody laughs at me for feeling or doing or saying anything. This is a very safe space for me. TCC is home.”

It took three tries before Anderson actually walked through the doors at TCC. Her life had turned into a rollercoaster after a messy divorce forced her to leave New Jersey when she lost her home to foreclosure.

Her mother lived in a low-income one-bedroom apartment in Suffolk. The two weren’t close, but it was a place where Anderson could shower and sleep on the floor on particularly cold nights.

A 2006 blue Chrysler Sebring convertible became her bed and closet. “I couldn’t use it as a convertible,” she says. “All my stuff was in it.”

Anderson searched for jobs but found none. She had worked before – in fast food, at a call center and teaching preschool in an underprivileged area. But nobody was biting this time around.

“No one would even hire me to scrub toilets at 4 in the morning,” she says.

Anderson knew a degree would be the game changer for her future. When she worked up the courage to go inside Building A in Portsmouth, she met Moore.

“My fairy godmother, my Glinda from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” she says.

Moore walked her through the admissions process and helped her navigate domicile issues for financial aid as Anderson had no recent income tax records. She also directed Anderson to Open Door Project, a federally funded support program for first-generation college students.

“I realized there were others like me who needed help,” she says.

Anderson was a sponge from her first semester at TCC in August 2016. She met Eric Styles, a financial aid coordinator, who chose her to be the emcee of an Open Door leadership conference. She promised herself never to turn down an opportunity to grow.

“I was terrified; they were impressed,” Anderson says.

Styles introduced Anderson to Woodhouse and Branch. Anderson connected with Singleton, too, all women who exemplified the type of person she wanted to be.

“I gleaned whatever I could from them – how to talk, how to dress,” Anderson says. “I grew up in a family full of women, but nobody taught me anything. I came here looking for advice and guidance and took everything they had to give.”

During her third semester at TCC, Anderson became president of Portsmouth’s Student Government Association behind a platform that encouraged inclusivity. She got an invite for PTK, the honor society for two-year college students.

“The application fee was $85 and I didn’t have it,” she says. After a few months of odd jobs, she collected enough and is now an active member who helps out with marketing.

Anderson has been a Work-Study student for TCC Professor Rick James and a student teacher for criminal justice, a field she plans to continue in by studying for her bachelor’s with a minor in criminal psychology.

“I want to counsel,” she says. “I want to be an advocate for young people who go through the adjudication process. Even though we’re a society of convicts, we’re not a society of people who understand the Constitution.”

From here, all that will be possible. She’s now the example for daughter Kennedy and granddaughter, Sa’rai, 2.

“I feel loved and accepted here,” Anderson says. “At TCC, you’re pushed and stretched and disciplined and rewarded. You’re inspired and empowered. Here you find the courage to attain your goals.”

New TCC scholarship is a powerful living tribute to lifelong educator

Del Karlsen, 68, believed education was key to giving people a hand in life. His estate gift of $125,000 will ensure that continues to happen.

The TCC alumnus, who died on Dec. 9, 2017, had a career at the college that spanned more than 30 years. His donation of $125,000 will establish the Ejner Emil “Karl” Karlsen Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of Karlsen’s late father who emigrated from Denmark.

Karlsen was initially a counselor and associate professor, and later a counselor for Veterans Affairs at the Virginia Beach Campus. He spent many years as faculty advisor to both the Student Government Association and Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges.

For him, being part of a community college meant being part of an institution that exists to serve the students. The Suffolk native and Navy veteran graduated from TCC in 1972. That same year, he was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa.

From there, he went to Old Dominion University, where he earned an undergraduate degree in secondary education, a master’s in education and a certificate of advanced studies in guidance and counseling.

In a previous interview with TCC, Karlsen noted that seeing so many students who often start with very little and achieve so much was the most gratifying part of working at the college. His best memories were of students who transferred to University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and MIT, where they continued to thrive.

“I’d like to think that we [the counselors] have everything to do with that kind of success,” Karlsen said, “but you have to give a lot of credit to the students themselves.”

Karlsen’s laid back good humor coupled with his strong organizational skills made him a favorite among students.

Once formally established, the scholarship will cover tuition, fees and books for recipients. Eligible students need to demonstrate financial need, live in Virginia and hold an active membership in Phi Theta Kappa at TCC.

For more information about available scholarships at TCC, visit To learn more about establishing a scholarship at TCC, contact the TCC Educational Foundation at or 757-822-1080.

Computer-savvy alum at work for IBM

Hezroy Hammil identifies as a Virginia Tech Hokie thanks to starting at Tidewater Community College.

Now he’s putting his education to work at IBM’s Client Innovation Center. Hammil develops and tests cloud applications for the government. His work is on the leading edge of the field and involves automation using mirco-services to build dynamic applications.

“The coursework at Tech was immensely difficult, but TCC prepared me well for the higher level work,” he said.

TCC alumnus Hezroy Hammil graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017.
Hammil graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017.

Hammil graduated with his bachelor’s in computer engineering and a minor in cyber security from Tech in May 2017. He spent his first two years at TCC earning an Associate of Science in Science with a Specialization in Computer Science.

“What I remember most about college is graduating from Tech with my bachelor’s,” he said. “It was that pinnacle moment when I’d finally accomplished what I started.

“The journey was not easy. But I kept my eyes on my goals and now I’m where I want to be.”

While at TCC, Hammil jumped into college life at the Chesapeake Campus becoming a Student Government Association senator, and a year later, president of the group. “I got involved and realized right away that I had a passion for serving and giving back,” he said. “I also enjoyed advocating for the student body during a time when the new buildings were under construction.”

He and other student volunteers had an active voice in planning for the Chesapeake Campus Student Center. Hammil also served as chapter president of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. He was also member of the Computer Club, Bible Club and Student African American Brotherhood.

“TCC laid the foundation for me to be doing what I have always wanted to do. The experiences I gained there propelled me to take on the next steps,” he said.

Hammil hopes to one day own his own computer business and be his own boss.

“I encourage people I meet to start at a community college before transferring into a four-year school,” he said. “Financially and otherwise, I’m in a way better position because of TCC.”


Student speaker dedicated to leading a purpose-driven life

Tony Sawyer credits Tidewater Community College with his successful transition from high school dropout to college graduate.

The student speaker for TCC’s 66th Commencement Exercises will share his story with classmates before he receives his Associate of Science in Social Sciences during the ceremony held May 12 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The Chesapeake resident volunteers full time for Onesimus Training Center in Chesapeake, a recovery home for men struggling with addictions. He decided to pursue his education to make an even bigger impact.

“Tony is a valuable resource to the ministry. His insight and life experience are helpful to me as I work with men dealing with the challenge of recovery,” said the Rev. Bill Twine, executive director of Onesimus. “He is also a source of inspiration and encouragement to the men in our program.”

Sawyer with Rev. Bill Twine, executive director of Onesimus.

After dropping out of junior high school, Sawyer spent the next three decades working unfulfilling jobs that left him dissatisfied and insecure about the future. During that time, he also battled personal and family issues that began when he was 12.

“I was introduced to a negative lifestyle at a young age,” he said. “When I moved out at 16, I thought I’d get a great job and make a lot of money. That just never happened.”

After reading Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” Sawyer was inspired to give back to the community.

When he first came to TCC, Sawyer jumped into college life, taking 14 credits while working full time and volunteering 30-plus hours a week at Onesimus. He was drowning as a student.

Meeting with Holly Desteli, a First Year Success advisor, helped him scale back to a manageable load. He dropped one class and gave notice at work, putting his education and volunteer service as his top priorities.

“Holly told me something that stuck with me. She said, ‘Just do the work, Tony. Do what’s due now and then do what’s pressing on your schedule. Leave the rest until tomorrow.’ ”

Sawyer earned a 3.8 GPA and was on the President’s List every semester after that first one.

The vice president of service for Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges, Sawyer also earned the William E. Wood Associates Scholastic Award, which recognizes community involvement in addition to academic excellence.tony-sawyer

Sawyer will attend the Honors College at Old Dominion University this fall to work toward a bachelor’s in human services. He also hopes to pursue education in nursing and would like to work in the mental health field.

Sawyer shares his life with two dogs, River, a chocolate lab, and Bella, a pit bull mix. A fitness buff, he enjoys surfing and stand-up paddle boarding. Sawyer’s sister, Lisa Holcombe, is also a TCC graduate working as a court reporter.

As the speaker for the graduates, Sawyer’s message is, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough and that you don’t fit in because you can achieve wonderful things. The education we received teaches us to think critically and with a purpose.”

He added, “Never look back. Pursue your dreams and enjoy the journey into your future.”