“Don’t be afraid to change,” said Brandi Rey, a soon-to-be graduate of Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Rey, along with more than 1,000 other students, will graduate Friday. However, unlike many of her peers, Rey wasn’t sure she’d ever go back to school, much less graduate with a 4.0 GPA.
She’d been to school for various things over the years, like cosmetology and massage, but nothing seemed to stick. After being disappointed by experiences at other community colleges, Rey was starting to doubt herself.
“Thinking about going back to school as an older student can be intimidating,” the 36-year-old said. “But I knew I wanted to improve my life.”
After meeting with advisers from PVCC, Rey found her fears to be misplaced. Instead of just giving her a list of classes to take and sending her on her way, the advisers talked with her, trying to learn what academic path would work best.
“They don’t just tell you to take this class or that one; they listen to what you want and find out what your passions are,” she said.
And so in the fall of 2014, Rey started on a liberal arts degree at PVCC and quickly became a highly motivated and involved student. She became the president of the French and psychology clubs, as well as the Student Government Association.
Her positive attitude and willingness to learn and help others made her stand out to instructors, including Kris Swanson, who teaches French.
“Most students are timid on the first day, but not Brandi,” Swanson said. “She was always willing to participate.”
Swanson taught Rey for four semesters and said she was an “absolute delight” to have in class the whole time. She also suspects that classmates benefited from Rey’s consistent engagement.
“In some classes, one student can make such a difference in the dynamic,” she said. “She’s one of those students that instructors love to have in class.”
Connie Jorgensen, a professor of political science at Piedmont, echoed similar sentiments. Rey was her student for one semester, but the two worked together often as a part of student government.
“The whole SGA was incredible, but I think they really did benefit from [Rey’s] leadership,” Jorgensen said.
The energy and zest for learning Rey put into everything she did impressed Jorgensen, who said she hopes other students take notice.
“Even courses she didn’t think she would like she put her best effort into,” Jorgensen said. “She always embraced learning new things.”
Other instructors felt similarly, and this year Rey was given the PVCC Distinguished Student Award. Students, faculty and staff members can recommend someone for the award, but it is always given to a student “who demonstrates exemplary service or leadership within the college or in other activities in PVCC’s service region and beyond.”
“To be recognized, as an older student, is incredible,” Rey said. “I had no idea I would even be in the running.”
Rey will attend the University of Virginia in the fall. She plans to pursue a degree in psychology and then a master’s degree in health counseling.
Ultimately, Rey said she hopes to become a student adviser to help others realize their dreams.
“I’d encourage anyone to come here, especially older students,” she said. “My experience at PVCC has given me everything I was lacking in self-confidence.”