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First AFA graduate on her way to VCU to study vocal performance

Emma Tracy started taking voice lessons at age 12. Today she is a college graduate who has parlayed her love of singing into a college degree.

Tracy, 23, became Tidewater Community College’s first graduate to earn an Associate of Fine Arts in Music when she walked across the stage at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on May 12.

“I found that I really didn’t have any other interests or anything else I’m good at except my music,” Tracy said. “It feels great forging this path for other students to follow.”

The Maury High School graduate attended the Governor’s School for the Arts. Tracy came to TCC the first time right out of Maury High and the Governor School for the Arts. The honors graduate struggled with mental health issues initially at TCC, where she failed her early classes.

She returned to the college in spring 2017 to retake courses and start anew.

Emma Tracy performing with TCC's Blue Moon Jazz ensemble at the Norfolk Campus.
Emma Tracy performing with TCC’s Blue Moon Jazz ensemble at the Norfolk Campus.

“I wish I’d known about the support services available for students the first time I was here,” she said. “I’ve learned that everyone here is rooting for you and wants you to succeed.”

Tracy refined and expanded her performances skills at TCC by participating in ensembles and TCC Chorus.

A classical singer who enjoys opera, Tracy discovered jazz singing by joining TCC’s Blue Moon Jazz ensemble. She enjoyed performing with the group so much that she is taking the class again this summer.

“The music program here is such a great community,” she said. “I made so many friends and we help each other out.”

Tracy credits Mark Denison, music program head, and staffer Jeannette Winsor for their support.

Tracy will attend Virginia Commonwealth University to pursue a bachelor’s in vocal performance and hopes to later work toward a master’s in music performance.

“In the music field, you definitely need a degree unless you are some YouTube star, but even then, formal training is really necessary,” she said.

Married to Jesse Ingle who is in the Navy, Tracy spends her free time playing guitar and piano and singing. She also enjoys fitness and spending time with her three cats and her dog named Teddy.

For students pursuing a similar path, she advises, “Don’t be afraid to do what you love. Communicate with your professors. If you have a problem, let them know right away. And don’t ignore your mental health. If you need help – get it.”

A celebration of multiple firsts and a memorial for a special grad part of TCC’s spring commencement

During a Saturday afternoon of milestones and remembrances, Tidewater Community College celebrated the spring class of 2018 at its 66th Commencement Exercises.

In addition to more than 700 graduates walking in the ceremony at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani recognized the following milestones:

  • Four graduates, Brandi Porter, Gabrielle Hutchings, Jaylyn Richard and Jay Sellers, received the Governor’s Medallion, given to four teenagers who completed associate degrees while still in high school.
  • Alexis Spangler and Xiaomin Chen, are the inaugural students to graduate through the Women’s Center’s STEM Promise Program, which provides full scholarships to students pursuing STEM degrees at TCC. Each earned an Associate of Science of Engineering.
  • Another first: Christopher Newbill and Alyssa Shepherd, both Wilson High School seniors, became the first high school students to earn Career Studies Certificates in Maritime Welding.
  • Emma Tracy became the first recipient of the Associate of Fine Arts in Music.
  • Finally, five students from Chesapeake Public high schools, Zachary Booker, Hunter Edward, Brandon Halloran, Christian Keifer and Jalem Wilson, became the first recipients of the Career Studies Certificate in Electrical Wiring for Technicians.
Student speaker Tony Sawyer and President Kolovani at TCC's 66th Commencement Exercises.
Student speaker Tony Sawyer and President Kolovani at Commencement.

Keynote speaker Cheryl Turpin, an educator elected last fall to Virginia’s House of Delegates, encouraged the students to keep learning regardless of age.

“No matter your age, I see nothing but young minds when I look out to this crowd,” said the longtime science teacher.

Turpin’s journey has taken her from science teacher at Cox High School to the cover of Time magazine the week after she was elected to the House of Delegates. “If you follow your passions, you can achieve what you dream,” she said.

Student speaker Tony Sawyer, previously a high school dropout, talked about finding the desire to succeed at TCC thanks to the support he received. He graduated with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

“Education required a lot of sacrifices, but the lessons learned have been worth it,” said Sawyer, on the President’s List every semester at TCC and bound for Old Dominion University. “Today’s success is not an ending point. Let us apply the knowledge we’ve learned to make a difference.

Jordan McNair's classmates and President Kolovani on stage at Commencement.
Jordan McNair’s classmates at Commencement.

“As a former 16-year-old dropout, who is now a 49-year-old TCC graduate and attending the ODU honors college in the fall, I currently experience a new freedom from this education I no longer thought was possible,” he said.

During the conferring of degrees, Jordan McNair was awarded a posthumous Career Studies Certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems. McNair, a student at TCC’s Regional Automotive Center, died in a car accident last August. He was 20 years old.

Jordan McNair's parents, (center) Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.
Jordan McNair’s parents, (center) Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.

McNair’s family received an inspiring standing ovation from the graduates. His classmates, who finished restoring his project car, a 2000 Honda Civic, presented his family with his certificate.

Priority Automotive’s Jim Rose, McNair’s employer, also announced a new $12,000 scholarship, the Jordan McNair Memorial Honda PACT Scholarship, sponsored by the dealership. The scholarship will assist second-year TCC students enrolled in the Honda PACT program.

TCC’s alumni base of more than 100,000 continues to grow with the addition of the 1,500 graduates who are part of the class of 2018.

She came to TCC without a plan but will leave with an associate degree, a full-time job and no student debt

When Christine Dela Cruz immigrated to this country five years ago from the Philippines to join her father in Virginia Beach, she didn’t know what was next.

Word-of-mouth led her to Tidewater Community College, and with the help of academic advising on the Virginia Beach Campus, she discovered a career path she had never considered.

Dela Cruz will graduate this week with an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Technology (MLT). She’s already been hired at Sentara Virginia Beach General as a lab technician. She has no student loan debt thanks to two scholarships she received from TCC in addition to her financial aid.

You can bet she’ll be savoring all of it during commencement on May 12 at 2 p.m., at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

“I’m the first in my generation to graduate college,” Dela Cruz said. “You could say my dad is pretty proud.”

Christine Dela Cruz looks through a microscope at TCC's clinical laboratory.
Christine Dela Cruz is the first in her family to graduate from college.

Dela Cruz, 24, considered nursing, but her fascination working with machines and preference to work indirectly with patients made her a better fit for working in a lab. Rapid job growth is projected for the medical laboratory technology field, where technicians assist physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of disease by performing tests on tissue, blood and other body fluids.

It’s an ideal match for a lab rat like Dela Cruz.

“Mycobacteria look like galaxies under a microscope,” she said. “There’s so many awesome things to see. It’s fascinating how minute organisms have a gigantic effect on the body. I also like working behind the scenes and solving the unknown organisms we had in microbiology. I felt like I was an investigator on ‘CSI.’ ”

Dela Cruz stresses that MLT is a rigorous program, particularly given that the Philippine dialect Tagalog is her native language. She also worked full time initially, enduring 12-hour shifts starting at 5 a.m., then napping in her car before heading to class. Professor Angela Bell is demanding of her students, Dela Cruz said, but also supportive and mentoring.

“Always, always, always she’s available,” she said. “All of the professors help you all the way through and they keep pushing you. They help you. That’s what I really like about the program. They don’t leave you hanging.”

Once Dela Cruz started the clinical portion of the program, she realized why the demands were necessary. She felt completely prepared for her three clinical rotations, where, she said, expectations are high.

“We compete with universities and other colleges, but all I’ve heard from my rotations is how TCC students excel,” she said.

Dela Cruz is also grateful for TCC awarding her the Alexsandria Manrov Scholarship, given on behalf of the late science professor, and the Barnes & Noble Scholarship.

“TCC helped out my family big time,” she said.

The MLT program boasts a pass rate of 100 percent the last three years on the state board exam that Dela Cruz feels well prepared to take in June. Bell also said 100 percent of those students have found employment in the field. Dela Cruz is actually among a selected few who is paid for her work during clinicals.

“She is such a hard worker,” Bell said. “She’s one of those students who’s all about helping others. In lab if anyone is having difficulty, she jumps in and tries to explain.”

Dela Cruz plans to work toward her bachelor’s in medical technology, an online program she can complete at Old Dominion University. She would eventually like to become a pathologist.

Mom and daughter earning same associate degree on same day

Linda and Danielle Owens close up the Joint-Use Library almost every weeknight.

They’re not staff, they’re late-night study partners who will be Tidewater Community College graduates on May 12. They will sit side by side at the Ted Constant Convocation Center where each will be conferred an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education at the college’s 66th Commencement Exercises.

It will be a memorable moment for mother, Linda, and daughter, Danielle.

“I didn’t think I could do it; now I’ve done it,” said Linda, ready to begin work on a bachelor’s in early childhood education at Norfolk State University after she completes a second degree, an Associate of Science in Social Science, at TCC. “I’m 57 and I’m graduating. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

Linda vividly recalls sitting in the audience watching her son, Robert, finish with his doctorate from Grantham University. The longtime bus driver for Virginia Beach Schools regretted not having a college degree herself.

Linda and Danielle Owens studying together in the Joint-Use Library.

Around the same time, Linda learned she needed college classes to be considered for a promotion at Hampton Roads Transit, her summertime job.

“I decided it was my turn to get my own college degree,” she said.

She started at TCC in 2016, where Danielle, 25, had been a student since 2012. A learning disability made retaining material difficult for Danielle, who was regularly frustrated by navigating high school.

Danielle’s soft spot for children motivated her for a career in early childhood education, but it wasn’t until she worked closely with TCC disability counselor Vickie Rogers that she realized a college degree was attainable.

“She kept me on track,” Danielle said.

Now she’s finishing up her final semester internship at Wave Children’s Learning Center in Virginia Beach, where she’s also been hired to work with toddlers.

“If I could work for free, I would,” she said. “That’s how much I love it. The kids give me hugs all the time.”

Danielle’s struggles to overcome her disability led to Linda choosing the same degree path at TCC.

“I want to catch the problems that didn’t get caught with her,” she said. “I want to work with special needs kids as young as kindergarten.”

Focus was key to completion for both of them. It would have been easy for Linda to finish her bus route and head home to relax. Danielle can fall into the trap of distractions replacing homework at night if she isn’t careful.

That’s why the two are regulars at the Joint-Use Library, where they review course material together, compare lesson plan homework and seek out help when needed. Both are on a first-name basis with library staff and have used the Learning Assistance Center on the Virginia Beach Campus.

“All your resources are right here,” said Linda, her class materials sprawled out in front of a computer. “Everyone knows us here. We’re the last ones to leave.”

Both earned certificates in December and also walked in that commencement. But walking together to pick up their associate degrees is a bigger milestone. Mom and daughter, who have skydived together and weathered Busch Gardens’ most intimidating rollercoasters as a pair, understand how special this is.

“Not everyone gets to go to college with their mom,” Danielle said. “When I cross that stage on May 12, I’m going to think of success and my reaction to my high school graduation after accomplishing all those goals. I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t see college then; now it’s right there.”

TCC to celebrate spring commencement on May 12

Del. Cheryl Turpin will be the keynote speaker for Tidewater Community College’s 66th Commencement Exercises on May 12 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Commencement, which begins at 2 p.m., will be streamed live at

Del. Cheryl Turpin
Del. Cheryl Turpin

More than 1,300 will graduate, including several students who have earned degrees or certificates one month before completing high school thanks to dual enrollment.

Jaylyn Richard of Norcom High and Gabrielle Hutchings of Churchland High are recipients of the Associate of Science in Science. Churchland’s Brandi Porter will receive her Associate of Science in Social Sciences. Jay Sellers, homeschooled, earned his Associate of Science in General Studies. The four students will wear Governor’s Medallions as part of their academic regalia.

Wilson High’s Alyssa Shepherd and Christopher Newbill will receive Career Studies Certificates in Maritime Welding.

Five students from Chesapeake earned Career Studies Certificates in Electrical Wiring for Technicians. They are Zachary Booker (Western Branch), Hunter Edward (Deep Creek), Brandon Halloran (Oscar Smith), Christian Keifer (Grassfield) and Jalem Wilson (Great Bridge).

Turpin, elected to the Virginia House of Delegates last November, has more than 25 years of teaching experience as a Virginia Beach educator. She has spent the last nine years teaching Advanced Placement environmental science at Cox High School. She graduated with her master’s in education from the University of Virginia after completing her bachelor’s at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Student speaker Tony Sawyer, once a high school dropout, will graduate with his Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The Chesapeake resident will attend the honors college at Old Dominion University this fall to work toward a bachelor’s in human services.

TCC will award a posthumous Career Studies Certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems to Jordan McNair of Virginia Beach. McNair, 20, died in a car crash last August.