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Access scholars told to strive for greatness

The keynote speaker at the Access College Foundation’s scholarship awards luncheon cooked up a recipe for greatness for the class of 2019 recipients.

Lavell White, a motivational speaker who graduated high school from Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk before getting degrees from both James Madison University and Regent University, told the more than 600 people in attendance, including Access’ 31st graduating class of scholars, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center that greatness comes at a cost, and it has to marinate.

“Access provided opportunity and gave me what it has given every member of this graduating class,” White said. “It gave me an opportunity to be great.”

Greatness, he said, did not happen overnight, and that to succeed, he stood “on the shoulders of those who come before us.”

White’s cookbook includes five steps for greatness — growth, resilience, education, achievement and to touch the lives of others.

White said he grew by putting himself in an uncomfortable space when he had a choice of going to a school close to home and getting a car, or going to a school further away and having to push himself out of his comfort zone. He chose JMU, and he advised students to “be comfortable in being uncomfortable. You have to make yourself vulnerable.”

He also advised students to show resilience in the face of adversity. Using visual aids during his talk, White said that when something goes wrong in your life, you should yell, “plot twist,” and move on.

“Are you going to allow life to happen to you, or are you going to allow life to happen through you?” White asked.

White said students need to stay committed to education, with its purpose to replace an empty mind with an open one. He called for students to study with anyone doing what they want to do.

“Not everyone is going to understand your goal, because not everyone has your vision,” White said. “You have a right to achieve every goal you set for yourself.”

He said there will be people who will tell you what you can’t do, but cautioned them not to be one of those people.

He said it was also important for them to touch the lives of others, but said that a hero “should never be known more than the act he is known for.”

He noted how his own mother, Patricia Godbolt White, was denied equal access to education 60 years ago due to the color of her skin. Then, in 1959, after enduring academic and psychological testing, interviews and court cases, she was one of the first black students to integrate Norfolk Public Schools, walking into the halls of Norview High School as part of the Norfolk 17. She would graduate with honors, and was the first black person to graduate from a desegregated high school in Virginia, White said.

“To the class of 2019, greatness comes with a cost, but the cost has already been paid for you to be great,” White said.

Besides White’s keynote address, Access Vice President for Finance and Administration Heather Foxwell said Access, through its early awareness program in 26 middle schools, its high school program in 30 high schools and its college success program on 13 Virginia campuses, has reached 30,000 students during the past school year, with more than 4,300 students going to college next year “because of the assistance of Access College Foundation.”

She noted that Access scholars have a 90-percent college retention and graduation rate, versus just 59-percent success rate nationally and regionally.

“This has been another remarkable year for the Access family,” Foxwell said.

The luncheon honored the achievements of its Access Scholars, with Access awarding its own $5,000 and higher last-dollar scholarships to 151 students, worth more than $825,000. The scholars came from Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Suffolk, as well as Northampton on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.