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Katrina Richardson (Speaker, May 2016)
 katrina richardson may 2016 commencement speakerGermanna is honored to have Katrina Richardson as tonight’s keynote speaker. Prior to graduating from Germanna, Ms. Richardson graduated from Orange County High School; she has lived in Gordonsville all her life and she attended Gordon-Barbour Elementary School. These days, every morning she walks the mile from her home to the same elementary school she attended as a child because she grew up to be the principal of that very school. Her parents still live nearby.

Indeed, her parents’ determination that all of their children receive the best possible education is one of the main reasons why Ms. Richardson walks to work; of her job, she says, “Most days I walk through the hallways and I feel like a celebrity because everybody wants a hug.” She recalls there was never any question whether she or her siblings would go to college, and the success of the Richardson siblings is a tribute to her parents’ goal. One of her sisters is Emory University’s Director of Staffing for the Chaplaincy Program and the youngest is an anchor/reporter for CBS news in Philadelphia; another sibling works for the University of Delaware’s President. It was education and dedicated parents that paved the way for the success of Richardson and her brothers and sisters as well as hard work.

A self-described “homebody,” Ms. Richardson recalls that when she graduated from Orange County High School in 1981, she wasn’t anxious to leave Orange, so she enrolled at Germanna. “I liked the small classroom sizes and the fact that the professors knew my name.”  The decision to attend Germanna led to her 1984 graduation with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science; she then graduated from National-Louis University in 1994 with a Bachelor’s in Business Management. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching from George Mason University in 2001and her Supervision and Administrative endorsement from the University of Virginia Leadership Consortium in 2007.

After receiving her Business Management degree, Ms. Richardson worked in emergency preparedness telecommunications for the Federal government for 13 years, but when she had two small children and was leaving home at 4 a.m. each day, she knew she needed a change.  As she explains, “One morning my 2-year-old daughter started crying and said, ‘Mommy, I need you, don’t leave me.’ And I thought ‘This is crazy.”

 So it was back for more education – this time in the form of a Master’s degree at George Mason University, which allowed Ms. Richardson to return to Orange County High School, where she taught for six years. Then she added leadership to her role and started her current position as principal at Gordon-Barbour Elementary School.  She clearly loves her work. One of the reasons why is making a difference in the lives of young students.

“The thing I like is the mere fact that kids at this level are still very innocent and very loveable and are like sponges–still moldable.”

Ms. Richardson married her high school sweetheart, Romano Richardson, Jr., who is a self-employed residential contractor. Their daughter, Alexis, graduated last May from the University of Virginia, where she is an admissions counselor; their daughter, Taylor, is a junior at the University of Mary Washington.

Education has given Ms. Richardson choices. We welcome her this evening as our spring 2016 Commencement Speaker at her alma mater, Germanna Community College.

Daniel Reichwein (Speaker, December 2015)

Daniel Reichwein December 2015 Commencement SpeakerGermanna Community College Fall 2015 commencement speaker Daniel Reichwein is an example of courage and perseverance for all of us.

Reichwein, who has battled depression and PTSD, was living in a tent in a wooded area adjacent to the Fredericksburg Industrial Park when he enrolled at GCC in 2011.

In spite of the problems he faced, he excelled, graduating from Germanna a year later with a 3.94 GPA while working 32 hours a week . He transferred to William & Mary and earned his bachelor’s degree there last August. Now he’s set to begin a good job with the federal government.

The 32-year-old Thornburg resident’s never-give-up message is one that failure needn’t be the end—that it can drive one on to success.

 “I was ready to change,” he said. “I had been homeless almost three years. I had to start doing things differently. I worked hard to do it and I received help from others.”

He said Micah Ministries, which works with the homeless in Fredericksburg, helped him get a part time job and suggested he enroll at GCC. One of Micah’s employees drove him to the college.

Another Micah employee, Dawn Witter, took him in.

“She opened her home to me,” Reichwein said. “I’m not sure I would’ve been able to finish my studies at Germanna if I’d lived out of a tent for two semesters.”

He called his three years of homelessness “a learning experience” and said much of what he learned came when he put aside his own concerns to help other homeless people.

In his blog, Reichwein says one doesn’t have to go through the bad things he did to learn about life:

“Experience parts of society you would not normally experience.  Talk to people you would not normally talk to.  Learn from people you would not normally learn from.  Doing these things will allow you to think and feel from a perspective outside your own, and that is where true empathy lies.”

Jessica Perez (Speaker, May 2015)
jessica perezJessica Perez, the graduate speaker at Germanna’s May 2015 Spring Commencement at the University of Mary Washington’s Anderson Center, works as a senior tutor at GCC, giving students the kind of encouragement she didn’t receive herself when she was in high school in Cleveland.

She told the 520 students who were awarded 917 degrees and certificates to believe in themselves as they go forth.

The 35-year-old Perez, an Orange County resident, told the graduates that she was in the ninth grade when her math teacher told her mother during a meeting, “Sometimes parents have to face the fact that their child is not very smart.”

She enrolled at Germanna, where she was surprised to find that faculty and staff members like Diane Critchfield believed in her.  That led to her to believing in herself, she says, and when she did, she excelled.

She now plans to go to graduate school and become a college professor.

“The opportunity Germanna gives people is amazing,” Perez said. “I don’t know if I would have had the same results anywhere else.”

Eugene Triplet (Speaker, December 2014)
commencement speaker

In 1970, Eugene Triplett graduated from Culpeper High School and was accepted to the University of Virginia.

He decided to start his college career at Germanna and he’s glad he did.

The 61-year-old owner of Wilderness Center Pharmacy was graduate speaker at GCC’s Fall Commencement on December 18, 2014 at the Fredericksburg Expo Center as 367 students were awarded 679 degrees and certificates.

He earned his associate degree from Germanna in 1973. Then he went on to a degree in pharmacology from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia.

“For the price you pay, it’s probably your best bet to start,” he said. “If you’re not sure what you want to do, what you want your major to be, it’s the best way to start.

Devon Geary (Speaker, May 2014)
 

commencement speaker Office of Disability Services, Germanna Community College

It wasn’t that long ago and Devon Geary, Germanna Community College’s Spring 2014 commencement speaker, has come so far. She was so sick in 2006, when she was a sophomore at James Monroe H. S. in Fredericksburg that she had to drop out of school.

She suffers from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can be debilitating. Worse, Devon’s case of POTS is accompanied by Ehler-Danos syndrome, which affects connective tissue between joints and can make movement agonizing.

At 16, she was faced with the prospect of being bedridden or in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She refused to give in. In 2008, she came to Germanna in a wheelchair and earned her GED. She began classes at GCC, using a walker, and frequently losing consciousness. She thrived on the kind of one on one attention students receive from the faculty at Germanna.

Her condition gradually improved, and though there was still pain, by 2010, she was able to walk on her own. Geary did so well at Germanna she was awarded nearly a full scholarship to Amherst College, one of the top liberal arts schools in the country. She has since graduated from Amherst, where she was chosen as an Amherst-Folger Undergraduate Fellow and worked as a teaching assistant.

Now she’s giving back by coming back to Germanna, where she works in the Disability Services Department, helping others.

Mark Ivory (Speaker, December 2013)

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At first Mark Ivory considered Germanna Community College a way station—a pit stop on the way from high school to a university degree.

It turned out to be the place where he found his way.

 “It’s a good place to figure out what you want to do in life and not spend an inordinate amount of money,” Ivory says.

He had planned to go straight from Spotsylvania High School to Virginia Commonwealth University and go on to med school to become a doctor.

“I always wanted to be a surgeon,” Ivory says.

In May of his senior year in high school his parents told him they didn’t have the money, for college. He put himself through school. Germanna was affordable and its flexible schedule allowed him to work.

He eventually decided to enter Germanna’s nursing program. Early on an instructor asked the class “Why are you here?”

Others were saying it was their lifelong dream to become a nurse.

“I said, ‘I’m just doing this so I can become a doctor,’ ” he recalls with a chuckle. “And you could hear crickets.”

During the fall semester of his first year in the program his class had an operating room observation day at Mary Washington Hospital. He went in and was standing at the foot of the bed and the nurse anesthetist said, “Come up here.”

The nurse anesthetist told Ivory: “You might want to think about this. It’s a pretty cool job. You make a decent living and you get to do some fun stuff.”

 “I changed my whole plan right at the point,” Ivory says.

Saying nurse anesthetists make a decent living is an understatement. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean average wage for nurse anesthetists in May 2012 was $154,390.

He graduated from Germanna, passed the state nursing board exam and went on to George Mason’s RN to BSN program.

“I thought the nursing classes at Germanna were harder than the ones at George Mason,” he says. “Germanna was more hands on.”

He earned a master’s nursing anesthetist degree at VCU.

He works at Mary Washington Hospital. And now whenever a class from Germanna comes into the operating room, he tries to pull a student aside just as he was pulled aside.

“I always like to bring them up and give them that experience,” Ivory says.

As a member of the U.S. Army reserve, he was deployed in 2003 to Landstuhl, Germany, near Ramstein Air Base, the medical center for all of the European command.

He lives in Spotsylvania with his wife Danya Kriskovich Ivory and their four children.

Virginia Van Valzah (Speaker, May 2013)
 

commencement speaker

Forget Stigmas, Stafford Deputy who beat learning disabilities tells Germanna Community College Graduates, and go on to learn and teach; to help and be helped

Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Virginia Van Valzah has turned a learning disability into what she calls an “addiction to learning.”

Deputy Van Valzah, a Germanna graduate, was the college’s keynote Spring Commencement speaker May 8 at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center.

The determined 26-year-old newlywed has battled ADHD and dyslexia since she was a child. When she enrolled at Germanna Community College, she applied advice from one of her teachers at James Monroe High School to break courses down into easily digestible chunks and spend a lot of time in the Tutoring Center.

 “Class sizes at Germanna are small enough that you get that one-on-one attention you need to thrive,” she said in an interview.

 During the commencement ceremony, 562 students received a total of 981 degrees and certificates  and heard Van Valzah’s message that there’s no shame in having a learning disability.

After earning her associate’s degree at Germanna in 2006, she went on to a bachelor’s in administrative justice at George Mason University in 2008 and a post bachelor’s certificate and master’s in criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011. Using flash cards to study, she compiled a 3.7 grade point average at VCU.

She’s now a court security deputy for the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office and a training officer.  This summer, she will begin teaching criminology at Germanna as an adjunct faculty member.

“I’m addicted to learning and I’m trying to pass on my addiction to other people,” she said.

As a training officer, she‘s already helped students one-on-one who might have struggled without that attention.

 “People do things differently and they learn differently,” she said. “I want to be the person who understands a learning disability. They could be the best at the job. They don’t know how to do it unless you help them, but they could be the best.”

Van Valzah told a crowd  of 1,500 at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center those with learning disabilities shouldn’t allow themselves to feel stigmatized—that they should not be embarrassed to seek help.

In her speech, she said that if others, “had not helped me in the ways that they did, I am convinced that I would be a different person. Lend a helping hand. It may not be as black and white as my story is, but to that person it could change their whole life. So today, go forward with that message. Be someone’s inspiration and do not be afraid to ask for help yourself. Go forward to learn and to teach, to be helped and to help.”

 She grew up in Spotsylvania, Stafford and Fredericksburg. She currently lives in downtown Fredericksburg.

 Her mother, Cathy Van Valzah, has been a history teacher for over 25 years at Brooke Point High School in Stafford. Her father, Stuart Van Valzah, is an accountant who owns his own business. 

She said she has known she wanted to work in law enforcement since she was 7 years old. “When other girls were playing with dolls, I was playing cops and robbers,” she said. “I’ve always been kind of a tomboy.”

Anita Newhouse (Speaker, December 2012)

Anita Newhouse Commencement SpeakerAnita Newhouse didn’t believe she was college material.

She was wrong.

Germanna’s Fall 2012 Commencement speaker says she came up with every excuse she could not to enroll there.

“I have a child.”

 “I work full time.”

“I wasn’t a good student in high school.”

 “I’m different.”

 “The truth is,” she says, “my self-esteem and confidence were so low that I honestly didn’t think I would be successful. I thank God I listened to a friend who convinced me to enroll at Germanna in 2000. She suggested taking one class at a time until I was used to that and then taking more than one class each semester. As time passed, I became more confident and I held my head higher.”

She was 29 years old when she started at GCC.  Her goal was to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time she was 40. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington when she was 34.  Along the way, she received a Virginia Community College System Chancellor’s Fellowship.

By age 36, she was manager of Germanna’s Welcome & Entry Center at the Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, which brings together counseling, financial aid and admissions resources to help students in that area find the answer to any questions they have, overcome any doubts they have, and get off to a flying start. 

She says she can identify with “the hesitation, the anxiousness, the worry and the fear” some students feel as they enter college.

“If you have the burning desire to do it, follow your dreams and don’t let age or anything else hold you back from what you want to do. Believe me, you can,” Newhouse says.

Beth Turner (Keynote Speaker for Nursing Pinning, May 2012)
commencement speaker Professional Marriage and Family Counselor

Beth Turner found exactly what she needed at Germanna Community College.

The professional marriage and family counselor who lives in Warrenton was part of GCC’s first class when the Locust Grove Campus opened in 1970. She transferred from Mary Washington College to Germanna as soon as the school opened.

 MWC had no nursing program and the University of Virginia wasn’t accepting nursing students who didn’t already have two years of study in the field behind them.

“Germanna was ideal for me,” says Turner, now 70. “I could live at home with my children and go to school and also work. It opened the door for me.”

When she finished her nursing studies at Germanna, she was not only able to pass the state nursing boards, she was able to challenge them, meaning that she only had to take one more year of nursing in the B.S. program.

 “I passed over a whole year of nursing and I went into the fourth year of nursing at UVa,” she says.

 Turner, who lived in Culpeper when she was attending GCC and now resides in Warrenton, says, “Nursing was a springboard for me to do anything I wanted in the health care field.”

She went on to get her master’s degree at George Mason University and work with substance abuse victims before moving on to family and marriage counseling

Kevin Jackson (Speaker, December 2011)

commencement speaker Director, Bon Secours, St. Mary’s Hospital

As a young child growing up in the rural County of Caroline, Kevin Jackson was always a dreamer.  Being the oldest of three siblings, he felt it was his duty to dream large enough to take him from a place of solitude as a result of a childhood that was separated from a mother that struggled to care for her children.  Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson didn’t have the comfort of knowing who is father was.  The separation from his mother required Mr. Jackson to step up and fill a void that existed in their lives.  Mr. Jackson embraced this responsibility with pride and dignity and began seeking his own opportunities to provide a better lifestyle for his family.

By the age of 17, Mr. Jackson was working three jobs, still providing for his siblings, as well as being an astounding member of Caroline’s High School track and field team.  Mr. Jackson admits that he was a mediocre academic student that did not apply himself to his maximum potential.  Mr. Jackson vividly recalls while working in the barbershop on Saturday mornings, the debatable conversations that always occurred.  The topics ranged from sports to social-economic disparities in the world.  Mr. Jackson credits the exposure in his early years that sparked something intrinsic and became the motivating factor to wanting to gain more insight about the world around him. He knew in order to further explore this newfound desire, a higher education would be essential.

After graduating from Caroline High School, Mr. Jackson began his journey to higher learning and enrolled into Germanna Community College.  While visiting a family member at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Mr. Jackson learned about an incentive being offered by the Medical College of Virginia in conjunction with J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, which paid for students’ education.  Mr. Jackson transferred and received an A.A.S. degree in Respiratory Therapy.  After graduation, Mr. Jackson enrolled at VCU while working full-time at St. Mary’s Hospital as a Registered Respiratory Therapist. Mr. Jackson earned a B.A. in Political Science.  He attributes his years at VCU in conjunction with working in the healthcare environment, to exposing him to the real challenges of America’s health care system.  Over the course of several years, Mr. Jackson was promoted to supervisor, followed by department manager.  He currently holds the position as the Director of Respiratory Care, Pediatric Pulmonary, and the Pulmonary Lab at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Throughout the transition in his professional career, Mr. Jackson earned a M.H.A. degree from Seton Hall University.  He states that his role as a department director along with his education has given him a better understanding on how public health policy impacts the lives of people.  This experience has given him a newfound desire to further examine the social-economic disparities that contribute to people being uninsured and lacking access to medical care.

Currently, Mr. Jackson is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Health Policy at Walden University.  He states that his primary objective as a health care leader is to promote social change initiatives that have wide implications on the community.  Mr. Jackson resides in Richmond, and is married to Courtney Jackson.  They have one son, Dallas Jackson.

Kenny Dotson (Speaker, May 2011)

commencement speakerOwner-Operator, Titan Construction

Kenny Dotson grew in a single-wide trailer in Orange County’s Burr Hill.

That didn’t deter him from becoming one of the most successful business people in Orange County, working side by side with his wife, Lora. 

Dotson, 48, the owner-operator and sole proprietor of Titan Construction,   calls his wife “my right and left hand.”   They were high school sweethearts at Orange High School and have been married for 26 years. The couple lives in Locust Grove.

  He is a 1983 graduate of Germanna Community College and gives GCC much credit for his success, saying it opened many doors for him and taught him to be a leader.

In both 2007 and 2010, he and Lora were voted businesspersons of the year by the Orange County Chamber of Commerce. 

In 2008, he received the Ken Stanley Award for Excellence from the Orange Chamber of Commerce.

He is a member of the Germanna Educational Foundation Board.

Steve B. Jones (Speaker, May 2010)

commencement speaker Executive Vice President/COO The Fried Companies

Steve B. Jones graduated from Germanna Community College in 1979 with an Associate Degree in Business Management. He soon joined Eastern International, an industrial and office park developer out of Virginia Beach, as a Marketing Representative working with the Stafford Industrial Park project on Route 17 in Stafford County.   In 1983, Steve joined WJ Vakos & Company as a Facilities Manager where he oversaw the company’s existing commercial real estate portfolio until he was promoted to Vice President of WJ Vakos & Company in 1985.  In his role as Vice President, Steve was involved in many aspects of the company as it grew to become one of the region’s largest commercial development companies.

In 1995, Steve accepted the position of Executive Vice President of WJ Vakos & Company. He continued his leadership and involvement in all of the company’s development, construction, marketing, leasing and management activities as the company further expanded into Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia.

In the spring of 2005, after 22 years with W. J. Vakos & Company, Steve was recruited to become the Chief Operating Officer of the Fried Companies, Inc., a regional residential and commercial real estate development firm located out of Fairfax County, Virginia with offices in Springfield, Spotsylvania County and Greene County, Virginia. As COO, Steve has been responsible for managing all aspects of the company’s operations and real estate portfolio. Further, he oversees the management of several operating businesses in Virginia to include a Best Western Hotel and Suites, and the operation and expansion of Fried Companies luxury pet hotel, Olde Towne Pet Resort.

Through the years, Steve has generously given his time and talents to many community boards and committees including Germanna Community College’s Educational Foundation board.

Steve resides in Spotsylvania, Virginia with his wife and two children.

Lisa Seay, RN, BSN, MSN (Speaker, May 2009)

commencement speaker

A native Virginian, Lisa Seay is the Vice President of Development for HCA’s new Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, a planned 126 bed acute care facility opening in Spotsylvania County in 2010. Lisa is directly involved in physician recruitment, forming clinical service lines, developing new services, and pre-opening management activities. Lisa joined HCA in 2005 and served recently as Director of Business Development and Management Engineering for HCA’s Capital Division, which has offices in Richmond and Reston, Virginia.

 Lisa began her nursing career as a Critical Care nurse at HCA’s Henrico Doctors Hospital in Richmond. Since then, she has practiced nursing in a Post Anesthesia Unit, Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, Surgical Intensive Care Unit and in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. In addition to an extensive clinical background, Lisa has held leadership positions in nursing, healthcare education and healthcare operations. Prior to joining HCA, Lisa held both clinical and leadership positions for MediCorp Health System in Fredericksburg and as Administrator for the Surgi-Center of Central Virginia, an out-patient surgical hospital located in Stafford County. 

Lisa played a key role in HCA’s successfully receiving a Certificate of Public Need (COPN) for the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, the first new hospital to be built in 40 years in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While working on the development of the new hospital, Lisa also served as an internal consultant for 10 HCA hospitals throughout Kentucky, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Virginia.  Using performance improvement methodologies along with her clinical knowledge, Lisa was responsible for improving the efficiency and productivity of Emergency Room, Operating Room, and Imaging areas for HCA’s Capital Division hospitals

Lisa received her associate’s degree in Nursing from Germanna Community College, her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Medical College of Virginia, and her master’s degree in Nursing/Health Systems Management from the University of Virginia.

Along with several other committees, Lisa is a member of the Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Healthcare Council Board, District 1 Advisory Council for Healthcare Reform, serves as secretary for Rappahannock Health Advisory Council, Planning District 16 and a current member of American College of Health Care Executives, Caroline Alliance, Virginia Organization of Nursing Executives, and  University of Virginia Alumni Association

Lisa lives in Spotsylvania County with her husband Marc of 28 years. They have two children, Brian (graduate of WVU) and David (graduate of VT). Needless to say, football season is often very “spirited” at the Seay household!

Robert D. 'Bobby' Orrock (Speaker, May 2008)

commencement speaker

Delegate

Robert D. “Bobby” Orrock has served in Virginia’s House of Delegates since 1989, representing the 54th House District, which includes parts of Caroline and Spotsylvania Counties.

He is Vice Chairman of the House Finance Committee, while also serving on the Committees of Health, Welfare and Institutions; Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources; and Counties, Cities and Towns.

As a teacher at Spotsylvania High School,  Del. Orrock says he is keenly aware of the importance of creating a Virginia where coming generations will have better opportunities to compete in a world economy, while being better able to live, learn, work and raise their families

Del. Orrock has supported legislation that would reduce the sales tax on food, eliminate the estate tax, increase the per-child tax credit for educational purposes, and create long-term tax credits for health insurance for senior citizens.

He is active in local civic organizations. He is an EMT with the Ladysmith Volunteer Rescue Squad, a trustee for the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad, a board member for the Moss Free Clinic and a hunter safety instructor with the Virginia Game Commission. Del. Orrock serves as a deacon and trustee at Bethany Baptist Church and also works part-time as a radio announcer at WFLS radio in Fredericksburg.

He has three adult children: Robert D., Jr, Lila Joanna and Welford Thomas.  He lives in Woodford, at historic Medway Farm in Caroline County.