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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 celebrates 74th Commencement Exercises with largest number of dual enrollment grads

It was a full house for Tidewater Community College’s 74th Commencement exercise held in-person for the second time since the start of the pandemic.

Family and friends gathered to celebrate more than 1,500 graduates at Chartway Arena on the campus of Old Dominion University.

Graduates were all smiles as they entered the arena to the resounding cheers of their loved ones.

The evening graduation on May 9 was presided over by President Marcia Conston.

President Marcia Conston with Allison Wilson, speaker for the graduates.

The speaker for the graduates, Allison Wilson, 17, who completed an Associate of Science in Social Sciences, is a dual enrollment student with her sights set on law school. She will continue at William and Mary to study English on a pre-law track.

“We decided to attend TCC to better ourselves and we’ve worked incredibly hard to be here today,” Wilson said in her remarks. “One of the biggest challenges was the pandemic and the move to online learning where we dealt with barking dogs, crying babies and horrible internet.”

Wilson continued by saying, “We will take the lessons learned and apply them to our future experiences. We will remember the respect shown to us and replicate it. When things get hard, we will remember our accomplishments and push forward. Congratulations graduates!”

This year, TCC had more dual-enrollment students earning degrees and certificates than ever before. Wilson is one of the 45 students earning associate degrees before graduating from high school this summer. An additional 98 high schoolers earned TCC certificates this year.

TCC Board Chair Cindy Free gave the Commencement address. A Hampton Roads native, Free is a TCC alumna who began her academic journey at TCC earning an associate degree in Physical Therapy Assistant in 1986.

Free is a member of the Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists Physical Therapy team. She has actively served on the College Board’s Finance and Facilities Committee, the Executive Committee, chaired the Advocacy Committee and TCC Educational Foundation, as well as served as Board chair since 2019.

“You have now earned degrees and certificates and the support of a school that will stick with you throughout your career,” Free said to the graduates. “Each of you has found your own way to thrive and gained the gift of confidence.”

She added, “I invite you to consider the opportunities that lie ahead and the raw materials of which you will fashion your life’s journey. Wherever life takes you, come back and see us and bring your stories and remind us that from here you really can go anywhere.”

The ceremony continued as families and friends cheered and snapped photos. Graduates crossed the stage and joined a TCC alumni network of 100,000 and counting.

If you missed graduation, you can watch the TCC livestream.

Marvin Fletcher and SaNayah Hill, father and daughter graduates, shared their story with News 3.