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Kudos to TCC’s Fall Class of 2020

Four days before Christmas, Tidewater Community College celebrated its 71st Fall Commencement Exercises virtually.

The full stream of the ceremony is available here.

“This celebration demonstrates the tenacity and strength of our students and the TCC community,” said TCC President Marcia Conston, presiding over her second virtual commencement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Conston acknowledged the college’s military-related students, who make up one-third of enrollment and she commended the faculty and staff for their role in student success. Several faculty and staff members also recorded “shoutout” videos offering their congratulations to the 1,206 graduates.

Many applauded the resilience of the graduates to complete their journeys despite the pandemic.  Faculty members from the ESL Department congratulated the students in multiple languages.

The ceremony featured two student speakers — Grace Motley, a Women’s Center STEM Promise Program scholar, who received her Associate of Science in Computer Science and Joseph Baca, who earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

“I cannot even begin to describe the many life lessons I have learned, and I am sure I am not alone,” said Motley, who thanked the professors and STEM Promise Program coordinator Jaedda Hall who helped her complete her degree.

Baca embraced the “community” part of being a TCC student, acknowledging his peers, professors and faculty members for helping him persevere. “Know there is no timetable on experience in life, but we must have the courage to face it,” he said.

Michelle Woodhouse, TCC’s vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer, presented the 1,026 graduates. President Conston conferred the degrees.

Prior to the ceremony concluding with a benediction, alumna Rickkita Taylor, recently a guest on “Ellen,” welcomed the college’s newest graduates to join an alumni network that is more than 100,000 strong.

“We are embedded in the fabric of Hampton Roads and are so proud of you for persevering and finishing strong,” she said. “I encourage you to take advantage of your achievement by attending networking events and embracing all the opportunities offered by TCC Alumni to “connect, contribute and celebrate!’ ”

All graduates had their names and corresponding degrees or certificates scroll on screen.

From a TCC commercial to Juris Doctor

Whatever happened to the girl in the Tidewater Community College commercial?

Chances are you’ve seen the TV spot that first aired in 2016 featuring Elissa Sanford, whose 4.5 high school GPA and AP credits would have stacked up for admission to just about any college.

But the Hickory High graduate chose TCC, where she graduated with an Associate of Science in Science and no student debt. She transferred to Old Dominion for a bachelor’s in biology.

As the 30-second ad trails off, Sanford talks about her next step — medical school.

Four years later, Sanford’s no MD. She’s a JD, instead, earning a Juris Doctor degree from the William and Mary Law School in May. Today the 26-year-old is a junior associate at Oblon, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, headquartered in Alexandria. The firm, located across the street from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is among the largest in the nation that focuses exclusively on intellectual property.

Sanford couldn’t be happier about the journey that started “from here.”

As a high school senior, her friends prodded her to go away to college, but when she did the math, it didn’t add up. Instead, Sanford finished all of her general education requirements at TCC, so she could begin ODU as a junior. As a recipient of the Outstanding High School Graduate Scholarship, she attended tuition-free.

“Ultimately, I had to make the decision for myself, which is something you have to learn how to do,” she says. “I realized there was no point in going away because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I didn’t see the point in wasting all that money while I tried to figure it out.”

As a student ambassador for the Chesapeake Campus, Sanford enjoyed the service aspect. She was a mentor to high school seniors, who she sometimes saw herself in. “Just being able to sit down with someone who was frustrated and helping them out was really rewarding,” she says.

More than the small class size at TCC appealed to her. She felt that the professors invested in her, particularly her human anatomy and physiology professor, who helped her find a direction. For a while, that appeared to be medicine.

“I had always done well in the sciences, so the medical school route was recommended,” she says, and it almost happened.

But shortly after graduating from ODU, she was less than enthusiastic about actually working in a medical setting.

But how things work — now that intrigued Sanford, who decided law school offered a better fit. She compares the problem-solving elements of patent law to piecing together a puzzle. The science to the process fascinates that part of her that once wanted to be a brain surgeon.

“You have to be able to sit down and look at an invention and figure out how it works,” she said.

Sanford interned for her current firm the summer prior to her final year in law school. By summer’s end, she had an offer — a commitment the firm kept despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working remotely is a challenge at times, but Sanford applies those same study skills she learned at TCC to practicing patent law.

“The habits you develop early carry on, and I learned a lot of my study skills and time management skills at TCC,” she says.  “I love my job and I am grateful to have found such a stimulating and rewarding career. It all started at TCC.”

When MS cost him his Navy career, disabled veteran found his focus at TCC

One-third of our students are military-related. This week we highlight some of them in honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11. 

Snapping pictures, Matthew McCarthy forgets.

Instead of reflecting on his lost Navy career or the Multiple sclerosis diagnosis that unexpectedly ended it, the California native focuses on the subject in front of the lens.

“When I’m out taking pictures for a project, that’s all I’m thinking about,” he says. “It’s an outlet.”

Using his GI Bill benefits to pay for tuition, McCarthy is close to completing an associate degree in studio arts with a specialization in photographic media arts at Tidewater Community College’s Visual Arts Center (VAC).

He’s not looking to make a huge career out of photography; it’s a passion that’s evolved into a  therapeutic hobby and given him a purpose. McCarthy grew up enjoying the dark room and 35 millimeter film — archaic terms to today’s millennial.

In fact, when he signed up for his first class, he figured he’d be headed to the Virginia Beach Campus. He had no idea that TCC offered its own charming art school, the VAC.

“I had always gone down that street to go to the Children’s Museum and blew right past the VAC,” McCarthy says. “Learning in a building that is dedicated strictly to the arts is absolutely amazing.”

McCarthy’s photograph “Between Hands and Heat,” taken at the glass studio on the rooftop of the Visual Arts Center, was among the works featured in the 49th Annual Student Art Annual Design Exhibition.

McCarthy was admittedly directionless when he learned he suffered from MS. He enlisted at 24 and eventually got stationed in Virginia Beach in 2010. Six years after that, he began suffering from double vision and fatigue. Initially, he dismissed it, but within a couple of days, he went to the hospital for tests and received the diagnosis after an MRI.

A downward spiral led to the first major depression he had ever experienced. The MS forced him to medically retire from the Navy. He lost his father earlier that year, and a relationship that became toxic fell apart. He spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a hotel room by himself.

The time alone caused him to think and reevaluate. Finally, he developed this mindset: “It’s a disease. It’s not going to kill me. It’s chronic. I can manage it.”

“I compared it to diabetes,” he said. “I didn’t want it to control my life. I’m still me. I can still do the things I like most of the time.”

None of it was easy. He struggles with a lack of strength on his left side and some of his right along with cognitive and memory issues. Sometimes he slurs his speech.

“Star Trek” on Netflix became his respite until he realized he had to find a purpose to his days. Having heard from his military colleagues about TCC, he enrolled. He hadn’t been a strong student in high school, so in many ways achieving at TCC was his redemption.

“I went into college with that military mindset,” he said. “I’m in my fourth semester and I have had a 4.0 every semester.”

In addition, one of his photos for a project in his Fundamentals of Design class won an award at the VAC’s student art show. He earned the Doug Barner Fine Arts Scholarship this past fall that will help him purchase some better camera equipment.

Now the best news — McCarthy got married on Oct. 10.  He adds, “I couldn’t be happier.”

For special support services for military-related students, visit the CMVE or call 757-822-7645. You can also email

It’s not too early to apply for spring scholarships

Tonia Smith feared the out-of-pocket costs associated with returning to college. So in addition to applying for financial aid at Tidewater Community College, Smith browsed scholarship opportunities.

To her surprise, Smith didn’t receive just one scholarship; she was awarded several through the TCC Educational Foundation.

“I was extremely surprised when I was given multiple scholarships,” said Smith, who is working toward an associate degree in computer-aided drafting and design while holding a full-time job. “The scholarships paid for books, tuition, and even a new laptop that can handle the graphics of AutoCAD. I didn’t think students like myself would qualify for such large scholarship awards.”

Most TCC students qualify for scholarships. Browse the list of opportunities at to find your fit.

The scholarship deadline for spring semester is Nov. 15. Scholarships will be awarded on a first-apply, first-award basis as long as applicants meet all the criteria.

Regional Automotive Center student Sawyer Matthews received a $2,000 scholarship.

Remember, scholarships are a form of financial aid that do not need to be repaid. Most scholarships awarded by TCC are worth at least $500.

Some scholarships factor in demographics. The Beazley Foundation Nursing Scholarship, for example, gives preference to students from Portsmouth. The George Flaherty Trust Scholarship seeks students whose home base is the Chesapeake Campus.

Others target a student’s background. The Chris R. Marcia Veterans Tribute Scholarship requires applicants to have served at least three years of active duty in the military. Some require essays, often about career and educational goals or how you will contribute to campus life at TCC.

Shanice Mills sitting on the seal in the Portsmouth Campus Student Center.
Shanice Mills has won multiple awards, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Scholarship.

A few, including the Barnes and Noble Textbook Scholarship, offer multiple scholarships to students on each of the four campuses and have minimal requirements.

TCC’s workforce education programs also offer scholarships. The Virginia Glennan Scholarship Fund, for example, requires a written recommendation by an employer.

Last fall, the TCC Educational Foundation awarded 504 student awards to 335 students.

Here’s what some of the most recent recipients had to say about their awards:

“With this scholarship, I have been able to be stress-free while focusing on my 16 credit hours for this fall semester. I was recently early discharged a year ago and wanted to obtain this goal in my life without feeling the need to go broke over it. Applying was as easy as 1-2-3. I got the email a few weeks later saying I was chosen.” — Navy veteran Dasha Chaney, recipient of the Christopher M. Garrett Memorial Scholarship

“I’ve received the Fred W. Beazley Scholarship this semester, but the one I am most honored to have received was the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship in 2019. I never fathomed I would receive this award. I just applied, and next thing you know, I was selected and honored at the award ceremony.” — Shanice Mills, recipient of the Fred W. Beazley and the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Award

“Every little bit helps.” — Regional Automotive Center student Sawyer Matthews, recipient of the Hampton Roads Automobile Dealers Association scholarship

“Thank you so much for choosing me to receive the textbook scholarship! My education has been so thrown off by COVID, and I have been out of work for 6 months now. Having one less financial burden will allow me to continue with this semester instead of having to drop classes to support my children’s virtual learning. This is truly a blessing. — Stephanie Mortimore, recipient of the Barnes & Noble scholarship