‘If you want something, you can go get it’: Thousands of Hampton Roads high school seniors shine, commit to college

OUTLET: Southside Daily

NORFOLK — Getting into college can be an arduous task.

There’s paper work to fill out, files to dig up, registration fees to be paid and research to be done, but one organization has made the process easy for several Southside students who want to continue their education.

About 2,700 students gathered at the Ted Contstant Convocation Center Tuesday morning to cheer, dance and wave signs sporting emblems of their future school at the Access College Foundation’s “College Commitment Day.”

Access College Foundation’s CEO Bonnie Sutton (left) and Cedricka Dalton (middle) dance at the college commitment day. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily

“Every person here has been accepted to at least one college, they have filed their FAFSA form and they’re working with Access in some way,” Bonnie Sutton, president and CEO of the Access College Foundation, said in an interview.

The Access College Foundation works with students in public schools in the region. Students sign up for the program and can meet with a special adviser who helps them apply for college, financial aid, grants, scholarships and even waive registration fees.

The annual college commitment event started as part of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, according to Sutton.

“Many of the students we help are first in their family to go to college, many of them are low-income students and really with the cost of college, there’s hardly any family that just has the money socked away and ready to write that check for college,” Sutton said.

Among the sea of students was Princess Anne High School senior Joseph Dugan, who has been involved with the Access program for three years. He plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University after graduation.

Southside students turn up at ODU waving signs sporting their future school. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily

“I didn’t know what I was doing when I filled out the application, but I’m so glad I did,” Dugan said. ”

Dugan said he was diagnosed with optic glioma, which is a tumor on the optic nerves, went through chemotherapy and didn’t have many friends when he started high school.

“The Access program really helped me out with making friends, and without the Access program, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Dugan said. “But guys, this is our day … If you want something you can go get it.”

Former Access scholar Cedricka Dalton, who earned her undergraduate degree at

Southside students pose for a photo on college signing day.
Southside students pose for a photo on college signing day. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

Norfolk State University, stressed the importance of higher education, despite socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I come from a single-parent home. It has always been my mother, my sister and I,” Dalton said. “I never wanted for anything, however we lived below the poverty line.”

Dalton said she was determined to beat the odds against her, so she visited with her Access adviser, who helped her waive the fees for college applications, the SAT and ACT tests.

Now, she works as an electrical engineer in Norfolk and is pursuing her master’s degree at Old Dominion University.

“College is the best experience of my life,” Dalton said. “I beat the odds with the help of Access. So get out there, beat those odds and make that completion with a purpose.”

Follow Justin on Twitter @justinbmmj or send a story idea to Justin@SouthsideDaily.com

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