Neither knew their educational journeys would connect on a cold rainy day in ODU’s Ted Constant Convocation Center where the husband and wife became two of 1300 ODU grads who graduated in two separate ceremonies. Congressman Scott Rigell delivered the first keynote address. Geoffrey Canada, a renowned anti-poverty and education reform advocate, delivered the second keynote address.
As Vanessa Hodges sat in the audience waiting to receive her degree, she recalled how her father had urged her to enroll at Tidewater Community College. Now she has earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at ODU. Her husband earned his bachelor’s degree in math.
“He was a truck driver,” she said of her father Johnnie Benson who died in 2008, six months after a stroke and heart attack slowed his steps. “He never had the chance to go to school, because he had a family to support. He was always so excited to hear about how I was doing.”
Her father passed before he saw photos of his daughter standing by the Great Wall of China, part of a trip she took last year through Old Dominion University’s Confucius Institute. And her father would have been proud of her participation in the school’s Model UN Society, which included a visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York City last spring.
Finishing a long educational journey that started with a gentle push from her father, she said, “I promised my dad I would continue my education and graduate with honors.”
Hodges and her husband of 30 years finally received their degrees.
Hodges said her husband has overcome his own challenges, and was a rock of stability for her as she made her way through school.
“He was so patient and caring for me through my college career while he was doing his own degree,” she said.
She was working as a licensed practical nurse and had a busy schedule. Hodges said her husband’s devotion shone during the three months of frequent trips to the hospital following her father’s stroke and heart attack.
“Those were very hard months for me. I attended class in the morning, visited my dad in the afternoon and went to work at 4 p.m. for my nursing shift, getting home around 1 a.m. Days that I worked extra shift, my husband would take up the slack. He cooked meals, did the laundry and visited my dad.”
Her husband, who was dealing with his own chronic back pain, was forced to leave his sales job and decided to go back to school as well. He also started at TCC, and worked part time as a math tutor while finishing his degree. Joseph, who will now tutor math full time at TCC, hopes to be a math teacher one day.
Vanessa plans to take more classes to improve her grade point average so that she can apply to graduate schools in psychology.
She said ODU has provided her opportunities she never dreamed were possible.
“I had never been out of the country, even once, and then I was standing on the Great Wall of China,” she said. “I have three children and seven grandchildren and, thanks to ODU, I have a college degree. I have so many people to thank. I’m just very grateful.”