Suffolk grads share advice with Class of 2022 during ACCESS College Commitment Day event

Published 5:50 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022

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More than 2,000 graduating seniors from 31 Hampton Roads high schools, including King’s Fork, Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools, came together for the ACCESS College Foundation’s College Commitment Day Tuesday at Chartway Arena at the Ted Constant Center on the campus of Old Dominion University.

It represents the first College Commitment Day since 2019 due to COVID-19.

Acceptances of the graduates represent more than 220 U.S. colleges and universities, and $40,000 worth of scholarships, $1,500 in gift cards for dorm supplies and another $1,500 in book scholarships were awarded to ACCESS scholars.

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Two Suffolk ACCESS alumni, Brandon Eley, a 2018 Nansemond River graduate, and Nyasia Johnson, a 2019 Lakeland graduate, were among the guest speakers at the event, and Alexis Zila of King’s Fork received a $1,000 scholarship to attend ECPI University.

Johnson, who also graduated with an associate’s degree from Paul D. Camp Community College and graduated from Norfolk State University in five semesters with a bachelor’s degree in history, praised the ACCESS program, crediting her advisor and people with the program with checking in on her even after she went to college.

Now, Johnson is a long-term substitute teacher at King’s Fork High School and a program manager of a non-profit working with 40 teens for eight months at a time as part of an internship.

“Those of you who win these scholarships, take advantage of this network that you now have,” Johnson said.

She said at this point in the year as she was preparing to finish high school, she could see prom, senior skip day and graduation itself on the horizon, and rushed through it.

“Since August, I was like, ‘I’m ready to graduate, I’m ready to graduate,’” Johnson said. “So what I want to challenge you guys (with) is, from this day forward, enjoy it. Enjoy your high school. … Enjoy your prom. Enjoy senior skip day. Enjoy these last few moments, because graduating high school, this is a major part of your life story that you’re closing.”

Johnson advised the seniors in the audience that everyone has their own journey and may want to get to the same place as someone else, but may have to get there in a different way. Noting her own journey, she said when she graduated from Norfolk State in December, she was preparing to go to law school to prepare one day to be a judge. However, it didn’t work out for her to go to law school at the moment.

“I was sad, I was real sad,” Johnson said. “I was like, this is going to change my whole life calendar like, I’m never going to get there. But that’s not true. I’m just going to get there differently. So I’m going to take some time. I’m going to do some other things, but I’ll get there. One day I’ll be a judge. And that’s like some of you guys. Whatever it is that you want to do, you’re going to get there, OK? Know that there’s going to be some obstacles, there’s going to be some twists and turns, but give it the best that you’ve got, and enjoy your journey.”

Eley, who is set to graduate the University of Virginia in about two weeks, told the class of 2022 high school graduates. He recalled his time in band, on the Nansemond River track team and in the Beta Club.

At the time, he said he knew little about the college application process other than building up a résumé that would look good in getting acceptances. He credited his ACCESS advisor with helping him fill out his applications and obtaining financial aid.

He offered advice about the college experience.

“The goal is not simply for you to arrive at your respective college, but to truly thrive,” Eley said.

His three pieces of advice: Be the best you you can be, no is a complete sentence and enjoy every moment.

“I grew up watching Veggie Tales and every Veggie Tales episode ended the same way, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, they would come out and they would say, ‘God made you special, and He loves you very much,’” Eley said, “and so even though that show was made for children, those words have resonated with me as an adult today.”

Eley said in college, it can be easy to give in to the pressure to follow someone else’s path for their life.

“I tried that,” Eley said, “and honestly, it is exhausting. So rather than be a version of someone else, make sure that you are the best version of yourself. No one can do that better than you.”

He said there is no rule that says people have to do everything — “know that you are enough and you have nothing to prove to anyone.”

Eley also highlighted some of the fun moments of college, from being in the marching band, to serving on student council, being an intern with Google and being a member of the Kappa Kappa Psi and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities.

“I’m excited about the next chapter of my life as I start my design career as an architectural firm in Charlottesville,” Eley said, “but I’m even more excited about the success that you all are going to have.”