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Terrie Suit: Proud of her community college roots

When the Honorable Terrie L. Suit is asked to provide a biography, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security always makes sure this detail is included: associate degree from Tidewater Community College.

“It’s really important to me that people know I have an associate degree first,” Suit said. “A lot of times an employer will drop anything below a four-year degree on your bio. Young people today and other men and women my age need to know it is fine to go to community college first.

“That’s actually an admirable way of obtaining your degree. People have to work. Not everybody can do the traditional four-year program.”

After receiving her associate degree from TCC in 2003, Suit continued at Old Dominion University, where she earned her bachelor’s in political science.

Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed Suit to be Virginia’s first Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security in April of 2011. In that role, she serves as the direct liaison between the governor and Virginia’s first responders on matters of preparedness, prevention, response and recovery.

Suit was a young Navy wife living in Virginia Beach when she first decided to enroll in classes at TCC. She started by taking accounting and economics classes, learning skills that she continuously uses given her work with budgets.

“Community college was the only avenue I had for a four-year degree because I couldn’t do a four-year schedule,” Suit said. “Neither my finances nor my work schedule would accommodate the pressure of carrying a full-time academic load.

“TCC was really the option that was best.”

That was 1991, and Suit detoured her college career when she became a state delegate a year later. It was former TCC president Deborah DiCroce who urged Suit to finish her degree, telling her, “If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it. Get the associate degree, and tackle the bachelor’s next.”

Terrie Suit was keynote speaker at CMVE openingSuit was able to expedite the process using the College–Level Examination Program, which enables students to earn college credit via examinations. In addition, Suit enrolled in online classes, all of which transferred to Old Dominion.

“The personal encouragement I received at Tidewater Community College, the patience of being able to do it over an extended period of time and really bringing it home in the end really made the difference,” Suit said.

The keynote speaker at the opening of TCC’s Center for Military and Veterans Education last month, Suit is particularly proud of the work TCC has done on behalf of veteran students and their families.

“I got great support from Debbie DiCroce at the time,” Suit said. “Now TCC has actually put a process in place for military spouses and veterans to receive the kind of support I was lucky to get. The CMVE is a huge benefit.”

Suit, who spoke at TCC’s Spring 2007 commencement, is a believer in what community college offers.

“It’s an outstanding foundation,” Suit said. “They gave you an excellent opportunity to get a good education. The automatic transfer program to other universities is huge.

“Going to the community college first is affordable, and it’s manageable with a work schedule and manageable when you’re trying to take care of a family. I think community college is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s something to be proud of.”

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