Gov. Ralph Northam exhorted graduates of Piedmont Virginia Community College to look beyond a good job and to use the skills they’ve learned to make a difference in their community and the world during the school’s virtual graduation ceremony Friday.
In a pre-recorded segment, Northam told graduates that COVID-19 and the difficulties it presented made them stronger than they may know.
“The past year has been difficult for everyone and it would be easy to dwell on what we missed out on during this pandemic,” Northam said. “[But] you have become more resilient. You have persevered through a time of incredible uncertainty. The world you are entering will be very different than the one you planned for or expected, but you are better equipped to handle it than you think.”
Northam said graduates were forced during the pandemic to learn to deal with the unexpected. He encouraged them to be the change they want to see in the world.
“[You] have learned that things happen that are beyond your control, but you’ve also figured out how to adapt and it’s important to remind ourselves that we have control over how we respond,” he said. “We don’t know what lies ahead and we all hope to return to a more normal life. Whatever happens, thanks to PVCC, you now have the education and tools you need to create opportunity and embrace your future.”
After the virtual ceremony, students lined up in the college’s Stolz Center parking lot in their vehicles to join a parade around the campus.
“I’m just glad to finally be here [at graduation],” said Jamesha Jones, 21, a Nelson County High School graduate who received her associate’s degree in general studies Friday. “The people at Piedmont, the students, faculty and staff have been great and I’m very pleased with my decision to come here."
Jones said she is considering taking a short time off from her studies and is thinking about going into nursing through PVCC’s program.
“I think that’s something I’d like to do,” she said. “It’s a great school.”
PVCC President Frank Friedman, clad in gown and cap, told graduates in a virtual segment that the online ceremony itself is way of adapting.
“We would normally be in John Paul Jones Arena holding a live graduation in front of thousands of our graduates’ friends and family. Unfortunately, this past year has caused us to make many changes to our lives, and this graduation is just one of them,” he said.
PVCC students are, by nature, resilient, Friedman said.
“I want to give recognition to the fact that our graduates are such a diverse and unique group of individuals. I recognize that almost all of our graduates worked while going to college in order to afford their higher education,” he said. “We recognize those who are parents and those who are grandparents. At PVCC, a student has to fit their education in around the whole of their life responsibilities.”
Friedman echoed Northam, telling graduates that their education not only prepares them for a better job, but to be a better citizen.
“Most of our graduates came to college thinking about a job, a career and making money, but a higher education is more than that,” he said. “We’re preparing you to be members of this great democracy, to be informed and engaged citizens.”
Friedman said their education also prepared them to be better citizens.
“We want you to recognize that you are preparing to work with your neighbors, your community, with your city, with our nation to help it move forward,” he said. “I encourage you to be a part of the solution rather than merely complaining about the problems. Think critically. Evaluate what is said. Listen to the arguments on both sides of an issue before you make up your mind, and once you make up your mind, get engaged. Work for the change you believe in.”