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After two years of virtual and drive-thru celebrations, Piedmont Virginia Community College returned to John Paul Jones Arena on Friday to send the Class of 2022 off in style.
The more than 800 graduates donned the traditional cap and gown once again for the commencement ceremony — the college’s 49th.
The return to a more traditional ceremony was welcome for students and staff. As students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, families and friends leaned into the celebratory atmosphere — cheering, stomping their feet and snapping photos. Air horns, shouting and whistles were encouraged, an official said.
Among the graduates was Quentin Johnson II who was leaving PVCC with an associate’s degree in general studies. The 42-year-old said he plans to continue on to the University of Virginia. He said he wanted to show his two kids that they could do anything.
“No matter what,” he said. “I want them to always be proud of themselves and me.”
Johnson, whose dad is the president of Southside Virginia Community College, said he started at PVCC when he was 38.
“Having a baby since then and still finishing means everything,” he said. “This is just a first step. I have more to do.”
During the ceremony, PVCC president Frank Friedman applauded the Class of 2022 for their accomplishments and highlighted the different backgrounds of students who were graduating. Lots of parents and some grandparents were among the graduates.
“It’s not your typical 18- or 19-year-olds, right out of high school, graduating class,” Friedman said, “Community college students are incredibly diverse.”
Friedman, who is retiring this summer after 23 years as president, was the ceremony keynote speaker. Learning from the nearly two dozen other commencement speeches he listened to as president, Friedman promised to keep his remarks short.
“I believe education holds the key to a better life,” he said. “I hope and believe that PVCC has launched each of you on that journey to a better life.”
In his speech, he focused on six traits or skills he hoped students learned while at PVCC, from a passion of excellence to leadership to confidence in themselves. The speech was peppered with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, William Jennings Bryan, and Star Trek’s Spock.
“You control your future,” he told the graduates.
Friedman encouraged them to care about their communities, vote and use critical thinking skills to distinguish fact from fiction, fact from opinion and fact from conspiracy theory.
“America needs informed, critical and participating citizens if our democracy is going to survive,” he said.
The Class of 2022 was the first class since 2019 to have a live commencement ceremony. Their last two years at the college have been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced PVCC to switch classes online in March 2020 and then to adapt several times in the last two years.
Toni Eubanks said the pandemic made reaching the graduating stage a bit more difficult as she juggled raising her son and work and life.
She’s graduating with a career studies certificate in early childhood education. She plans to open her own business — a childcare center.
“It means a lot to me to show my son that it doesn’t take much but to put your mind to it,” she said, adding that she’s a first generation graduate on her mother’s side.
Eubanks’ cap said “Miss Push” — a nod to her community activism.
Eubanks said her mother, who died a few years ago, had wanted her to graduate college.
“I wanted to make her proud and make myself proud,” she said.