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Mother of Three, Full-Time Employee and Ordained Minister Earns Bachelor's Degree After 16 Years

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Among the graduates who crossed the stage at the college's commencement exercises on Aug. 8 was Virginia Lewis Whittington. She completed her bachelor's degree after a college career that reflects superb time management skills and tremendous perseverance. 

Learn more about this remarkable new alumna of the college in a tribute below by Harold Barley, executive director of Metroplan Orlando and member of the Department of Public Administration's Planning Advisory Board.

A Tribute to Virginia Lewis Whittington
By Harold W. Barley

Virginia Lewis Whittington received her Bachelor's Degree in Public Administration at the University of Central Florida's graduation ceremony on Saturday, August 8, 2009.  This completes a journey that started 16 years ago.

Virginia began taking college level courses at Valencia Community College is 1993.  She enjoyed the learning experience but it was difficult raising three children as a single mother and working at a full-time job with Orange County Government.  Since you only get one chance to raise your children and she needed to work, Virginia needed to postpone her goal of earning a college degree.

In 1997, Virginia accepted a job with Metroplan Orlando.  She held a demanding position yet proved that she was capable of taking on additional responsibilities.  She earned another promotion soon after this.  Her potential for further advancement was recognized so she was encouraged to resume work on her college degree.

With the help of Metroplan Orlando's tuition reimbursement program and the support of her new husband, Virginia returned to Valencia Community College in 2004.  She took 2-3 classes each semester, which is quite a workload for someone with family obligations and a full-time job.

While family, job and school were top priorities for Virginia, she also gave generously of her time to her church -- the New Hope Baptist Church.  This went far beyond attending Sunday services and doing church-sponsored volunteer work.  Virginia had a calling so she became an ordained minister.  This required an even greater commitment to her church -- which she accepted with humility, grace and help from God with her time management skills.  But there was more.  As a result of unexpected circumstances, she needed to assume responsibility for raising a newborn grandchild.

Remarkably, all this did not deter Virginia from her goal of earning a college degree.  In 2006, she was awarded her degree from Valencia Community College.  Her impressive credentials helped her gain acceptance to the University of Central Florida where she started taking classes in 2006. 

Virginia continued taking a few classes each semester at UCF, including summers.  She thoroughly enjoyed her classes, especially those that related to her work.  She was very proud that she had earning straight A's - and then her record was shattered when she got one B.  This was hard but she vowed to work even harder.  Also during this time, she took on additional community volunteer work.  In 2008, she was appointed by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners to serve on the Citizens Review Board.  In addition, she organized a major event in 2009 to prepare young women to go to their high school proms with donated gowns, beauty sessions and etiquette seminars.  The event was a huge success.

Virginia's graduation from the University of Central Florida marks the end of a 16-year journey.  It goes to show that dreams may need to be deferred but not abandoned.  It also demonstrates the value of having top-rated institutions such as Valencia Community College and the University of Central Florida here in our community.  Their programs allow people to grow and prosper.

This mother, grandmother, daughter, wife, friend, ordained minister, church elder, community volunteer and valued employee has earned the right to take a break . . . but Virginia is not expected to slow down.  Coinciding with her graduation, she has received another promotion with Metroplan Orlando.  She is now serving on the organization's management team as the Director of Regional Partnerships.  And given her range of interests, it is unlikely that there will be any free time on her calendar.

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