Phillip Jones, newly elected mayor of Newport News, will give Virginia Peninsula Community College's first commencement address since the 56-year-old institution was renamed.
Jones' keynote speech at the May 12 ceremony is one of three such addresses he will be delivering that week. The other two are at high schools, including his alma mater, Hampton Christian Academy.
The theme for his VPCC speech will be of a changing work force.
“The world is basically their oyster and they just need to decide what they want to do with all the talents and skills that they have,” he said. “I’m looking forward to just encouraging them in their journey and encouraging them to dream big.”
Dreaming big has worked for him. When he was sworn in as mayor of Newport News on Jan. 10, he was 33, the youngest elected mayor in city history. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the United States Naval Academy, and an MBA and a master’s in public policy from Harvard. While at Harvard, he was a Tillman Scholar and co-president of the Veterans Club.
“For the veterans who go to graduate school, the Pat Tillman is essentially our version of the Rhodes Scholarship,” he said.
Education has been extremely important to his family, and he wants the VPCC graduates to know how it can change their lives and the community. That is why he agreed to the speaking engagement.
“Strong cities have a strong community college and I wanted to encourage innovation and collaboration in that space,” he said.
He sees it as part of his job to be involved with the College.
“I just think that it’s important that the mayor partners with higher education because higher education will always be the panacea,” he added. “It will always be the thing that can help uplift someone and change their life. I’m a huge proponent of what higher ed can do, obviously being African American.”
He said his great-grandparents were sharecroppers, but education changed his grandparents’ lives, his parents’ lives, and his life.
“To see that cycle, that seed, was all due to education, I’m really excited (to speak to VPCC students),” he said.
The event, at Liberty Live Church in Hampton, is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Graduates should arrive by 12:30 p.m. and guests by 1 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served, but overflow seating will be available.
The recipients of the College’s two most prestigious awards were announced, with Lewis Silverman garnering the President’s Award, and Alma Avelar the Vice President’s Award. The awards honor exceptional academic performance. Criteria include a high cumulative grade point average, completing at least 60 semester hours of course work and receiving an associate degree.
Expos a success
The College presented graduation expos at each campus last week sponsored by the Office of Student Life & Leadership and the Commencement Committee. Activities included a cap-decorating station, opportunities for students to have professional photos taken, and the recording of congratulatory messages to graduates from students, faculty and staff. The recordings will be part of the commencement countdown video at the graduation ceremony.
On the day of graduation, Enrollment Management and Student Success offices will be closed. This includes Admissions, Records & Registration, Academic Advising, Accessibility Services, TRiO, Testing, Department of Athletics, Student Life & Leadership, and Great Expectations.
Visit vpcc.edu for more details about Virginia Peninsula’s 54th commencement exercises.