When asked by a college student about getting into public service, and weighing the drawbacks of increased scrutiny compared to the advantages of being able to change lives, Virginia Supreme Court Justice William Mims responded with a pointed recommendation: “Do it.”
If you believe in a cause and want to get involved, Mims said, don’t dwell on the negatives of being a public figure. Just get involved.
It was an underlying theme throughout the day on Feb. 7, when the 2018-2019 class of Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE) Fellows were welcomed to the state capital, with an agenda packed with meetings, networking opportunities, and honors by state leaders.
The cohort of 35 Fellows – the largest in the program’s history – had the opportunity to meet with Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Senator Jill Vogel, and Justice Mims for discussions on leadership, dedication, and public service. In each meeting, the public officials emphasized the need for leaders from all backgrounds in public service.
Secretary Qarni spoke at length about his journey from being an educator to a member of Governor Ralph Northam’s cabinet. He emphasized his commitment to educational equity – ensuring that students across Virginia have the opportunity to get a quality education.
The visit was followed by a meeting with Sen. Vogel, who represents Fauquier County and also discussed her career and her decision to get into public service. When one of the fellows asked about a career in law as a prerequisite for public service, Vogel was quick to point out that many of the public servants currently in office came from a variety of industries.
She also introduced the Fellows on the floor of the state Senate. Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, presiding over the Senate session, welcomed the Fellows to the capitol. “Thank you for what you do in our community to help the Commonwealth of Virginia be a better place to live, work, and raise a family, and we look forward to great things to come from you in the future,” Fairfax said.
The message of using your individual talents for the greater good resonated with Alisha Reakoff, an Inova Fellow and paramedic who is pursuing her nursing degree at Lord Fairfax Community College.
“During the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about everyone we met and everything we got to see,” she said in an email. “When I think about trying to improve people’s experience with life, I literally get knots in my stomach. Then, coming to Richmond and meeting such amazing, humble, normal people who’ve been able to follow their passion and make a difference in the world, it makes me crave the same thing.”
The Fellows program, established in 2011, offers scholarships to second-year students at Virginia community colleges who have shown promise in academics, leadership, and community service. Sponsors include Valley Proteins, Inc., Potomac Health Foundation, Inova, and Davenport Energy.