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Four “outstanding” students to challenge Class of 2019

Post Date:05/08/2019 1:21 PM

Four student speakers will challenge the Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) class of 2019 graduates at commencement ceremonies to be held Friday, May 10, in the Joseph P. Johnson, Jr., Grand Hall of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center on the VHCC campus.

About 680 certificates, diplomas and degrees will be conferred during two separate ceremonies at 5 pm and 7:30 pm.  

“We asked our faculty to consider our students and select those representative of the incredible academic diversity we’re privileged to serve here at VHCC,” said Dr. Stacy Thomas, vice president of instruction and student services.

The four selected students were nominated by faculty based on the demonstration of “outstanding scholarship and a strong academic work ethic” and a “strong potential for future achievement.”

“This is a day to celebrate our students and their accomplishments,” said Dr. Charlie White, VHCC interim president. “The chosen speakers have stories to tell that are as rich as any other individual we could select and we’re excited to honor their achievements.”

The 5 pm ceremony will honor students graduating with Associate of Arts & Sciences degrees and those earning credentials in horticulture and industrial technologies. Abigail Bullen and Hanaa Elshouky will deliver the commencement address. 

Area high school students who have been designated Governor’s Scholars for earning college credentials through the Dual Enrollment Program also will be honored during this ceremony. This group includes 41 students who will be awarded a Certificate in General Education, which is equivalent to the first year of a four-year degree. Additionally, Ryleigh Marie Clukey, a senior at Chilhowie High School, will graduate summa cum laude, receiving an Associate of Arts & Sciences degree in General Studies and a Certificate in General Education.

The 7:30 pm ceremony will celebrate the accomplishments of students graduating in nursing and allied health, human services, business and information technologies, and administration of justice. Ashley Buracchio and Sloan Lambert will deliver the commencement address.

 Graduate speaker Abigail Elizabeth Bullen
 Abigail Bullen 
A self-described farm girl at heart, Abigail Bullen of Abingdon is the second oldest of 11 children. Bullen considers herself to be a lover of beauty and credits her mother for this attribute, saying, “My mom taught us from a young age to perceive beauty in the everyday things of life, and this has been a great light to me as I enter adulthood.” When not on campus, Bullen may be found at the Abingdon Farmers Market where she operates her own business selling handmade clothing and rabbits for meat. A member of the board for the Abingdon Farmers Market, Bullen also serves as president of the Student Government Association at VHCC and gives countless hours to school and service projects. 


 Hanaa Elshouky
English is a second language for Hanaa Elshouky of Bristol, but that has certainly not impacted her academic success and student involvement at VHCC. Born in Egypt, Elshouky came to the United States at the age of fourteen. While assimilating to the Southwest Virginia culture has brought many unforeseen challenges, Elshouky says she loves meeting new people and believes everyone she meets has something to teach her. According to Elshouky, who is receiving her Associate of Arts & Sciences in Science, her favorite memory of her time at Virginia Highlands is “making friends with people who were once total strangers.”


 Graduate speaker Ashley Breanne Buracchio
 Ashley Buracchio
Ashley Buracchio of Bristol, a soon-to-be-former waitress, knows the meaning of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” For the 32 year-old mother of three, coming to Virginia Highlands was her third attempt at going to college. Buracchio notes, “Life always seemed to get in the way. When my youngest child turned one, I decided to come back to school. This time I was determined to make it work no matter what obstacles life had to offer.” According to her nursing instructors, Buracchio is an excellent student both academically and clinically, performing well at VHCC despite often working full time to provide for her children. One instructor said of her, “She is everything you hope to have in a student.” Buracchio says her experience at Virginia Highlands has been exceptional and that she is thankful for everyone who spurred her on.

 Sloan Lambert
After Sandvik of Bristol moved its operations to Mexico in 2016, Sloan Lambert, with 21 years of service to his employer, decided it was time to go back to school to get his Associate of Applied Science in Management. A native of Castlewood, Lambert says Abingdon is now home for him and his wife, Kelly, and their six children, including three foster children ranging in age from 5 to 19 years old. After graduation Lambert hopes to secure a management position in manufacturing. Reflecting on the first day of his accounting class when he was “nervous and confused” and found himself thinking, “Is this really worth it,” Lambert says he can say today, “Without a doubt, it was worth it.”


Assistant Professor Tom Tidwell and Associate Professor Jim Kroll will serve as faculty marshals and Tabatha Gentry and Adriennea Olinger will serve as student marshals. 

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