Former Va. Secretary of Education's Rousing Keynote Address at 49th Commencement Stirs Crowd | Thomas Nelson Community College

Former Va. Secretary of Education's Rousing Keynote Address at 49th Commencement Stirs Crowd

May 11, 2018
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In a rousing keynote address to more than 300 Thomas Nelson Community College graduation candidates during the College’s 49th  Commencement Exercises, Dr. Belle Wheelan shared a David Letterman-style top-10 list of sage advice. Wheelan, who is president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and a former Virginia Secretary of Education, encouraged students to give back the community and be more civically engaged. 

She also emphasized the importance of lifelong learning. “Learning is a lifelong phenomenon. It does not end with the exam you took before you were certified to graduate,” said Wheelan. “You need to continue to learn something new every day and there is still no question too stupid to ask.” 

Wheelan, who was dean of Student Services at Thomas Nelson for several years, has a career of over 40 years in Virginia higher education that also includes stints as a faculty member, campus provost and college president. During her May 10 address, she connected with the audience through astute and humorous observations about changes in technology, differences between various age groups and ever-evolving social issues. 

She reminded students that being knowledgeable is as important as looking good when showing up for job interviews, standing for something is vital and humility is a key to success. She also pointed out that mentorship and selflessness go a long way.   

“Make giving back a routine part of your daily life. Many of you have been engaged in service learning projects while here at the college.  I’m sure that in addition to receiving a grade for your efforts you found that it makes you feel good to help others.  If you can find a way to bottle that feeling and share it with others, we’ll be forever indebted to you,” said Wheelan.

In closing, Wheelan told graduation candidates, “We’re all Americans.” She said think of that word’s last four letters, which are “I C-A-N,” when striving to acheive one's goals.  

Also part of the festivities, Thomas Nelson’s highest honors went to two students. Shannon Hepp and Rachel Bradley received the 2017-2018 President’s and Vice President’s awards, respectively, in acknowledgement of their exceptional academic performance and other criteria. They are among roughly 1,300 who applied to graduate during the 2017-2018 academic year having completed their curriculum requirements in summer 2017, fall 2017, or applied for graduation in spring 2018. 

The evening also included presentations of the Distinguished Alumni AwardThomas Nelson Medallion and Dana B. Hamel Award to Dr. Angela Giles, Everett H. Jordan Jr. (posthumously) and Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia, respectively. 

Look for photos and features on this year’s graduation ceremony online soon at The excitement is mounting for next year as the College is gearing up to celebrate its 50th Commencement Exercises.