Virginia Litchfield started college when she was 18. Before long, “life just kind of got in the way.”

She tried again six years ago. Again, life got in the way—and she didn’t have the tools she needed to reach out and ask for support.

She’d worked in retail for close to 18 years. “And I was really good at it. I never needed a degree.” But she did have a desire to finish what she’d started as a teenager. “It was always in the back of my mind…my mom was really big on higher education, and the value of education—it’s something no one can ever take away from you in life.”

In 2016, her daughter Suzy was born. A year later, Virginia lost her job in retail. At the time, it was devastating. But now she thinks of it as a gift from the universe. She says the lifestyle wasn’t working. “It was nights, it was weekends, it was on-call. When you only have one child-care provider, being on call 24/7 just doesn’t work. I felt like I was missing my daughter’s life.” Looking back on where it’s led her, Litchfield says losing her job “pushed me into discovering myself and discovering what I’m passionate about.”

Virginia’s third time at college would prove to be a charm. After her first two attempts, she was saddled with transcripts that reflected a low GPA. UVM and Champlain turned her down. So she set up a meeting with an advisor at CCV-Winooski. “When I sat down, I’m fairly certain I ran down the laundry list of all the reasons that I couldn’t do it.” But her advisor, former coordinator of academic services Jen Garrett-Ostermiller, was unfazed. “[Jen] pulled up my unofficial transcripts online, and she was like ‘okay, let’s make a plan.’ She didn’t bat an eyelash.” It turned out that Virginia was just 9 classes short of her associate degree. “I had no idea I was even that close,” she says.

Jen and Virginia also talked about support systems. “[Jen said], ‘okay, what do you do if your mom gets sick and she can’t take care of your daughter? What do you do if a paper’s too hard?’” She helped Virginia find in-person support for writing. She recommended that Virginia set aside time at CCV outside of her class hours, so she could get help if needed. They looked at course syllabuses and due dates for papers, so Virginia could plan out when she would need to submit drafts through CCV’s online tutoring service.

“So before the semester started, before I ever had to put pen to paper, I had a different amount of confidence,” Virginia says. “Before, what had gotten in the way every time was something happened and I didn’t have the coping skills. I didn’t have the built-in strategy of ‘here’s what you do when…’ and Jen helped me build some of those skills. She helped me build resilience.”

The transition back to school still had its challenges. Virginia had to modify her parenting routine to make space for classes and studying; bedtime was especially hard, when Virginia needed to prioritize homework. “[Suzy] would crawl to the end of the bed, where she could see my desk,” Virginia recalls. “She would fall asleep watching me do homework every night. And the first couple times I was like ‘what is she doing?’ and then I was like ‘wow, that’s the example I want to set’…if something is a dream, you have to chase it. How do you teach your kid to always pursue their dreams if you never pursue yours?”

Her daughter inspired Virginia at every turn. “I hadn’t even thought about graduation,” she says of her early months back at CCV. “But I thought, ‘if I do graduate, I don’t want to walk, because I’m going to be the old person there.” Virginia had changed advisors after joining TRIO, a federally funded program that provided her with access to additional support services, including a scholarship. Her new advisor, coordinator of student advising Sammie Boymer, told Virginia that parents were her favorite students to see at graduation, “‘because you get to see their kids at the other end of the stage, waiting.’” That comment stuck. “I’m not just doing this for me,” Virginia remembers thinking. “My motivation is very heavily that brown-eyed little girl.”

Virginia did walk across the stage at her graduation from CCV this spring, though she finished her coursework in 2018 and began a bachelor’s program at Northern Vermont University in January. At CCV’s June commencement, she was awarded both a $500 Alumni Scholarship and a Student Service Award.

At NVU, she’s pursuing a degree in professional studies with a concentration in criminal justice. She hopes to go on to Vermont Law School’s Master of Arts in restorative justice program. For the past two years, she’s been serving with AmeriCorps, where she has worked to explore restorative justice practices in Chittenden County. In her position at the Burlington Community Justice Center, she worked with their parallel justice system to help victims of crime. At the Burlington School District, she has helped implement restorative practices in schools. She says doing this work in the school system feels like her calling.

As she continues to balance work, school, and parenting, CCV is still a part of Virginia’s life—she visited the Winooski writing center recently to get help with an end-of-semester paper. “CCV continues to be a support for me.”

“When I came back to CCV, I really didn’t know that I could do it,” she shared. “And even into my second semester there, I still had a lot of questions. But that well-laid plan really guided me through.”

Virginia has some important advice for would-be CCV students: “Give yourself a moment, and make that list of reasons why you can’t. Get them down, and take them with you when you go to your first advising session. Go sit down with an advisor at CCV. Just explore the options, because it’s really easy to find all the reasons that you can’t. But I promise you, you can.”

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