Graduates of all ages crossed the stage at Germanna Community College’s spring commencement ceremony, held Tuesday at the University of Mary Washington’s Anderson Center—but Lucas Mosiniak, 18, was among the youngest.

After collecting his associate’s degree this week, he’ll graduate from Spotsylvania High School next week.

With two years of college already under his belt, Mosiniak will enter the College of William & Mary this fall as a junior—and with a full scholarship.

“It came as a surprise,” said Mosiniak. “I got my acceptance letter the same day I got the scholarship letter. That was a good day.”

Mosiniak is a student at Germanna’s Gladys P. Todd Academy, which provides a unique opportunity for area high school students from financially challenged or first-generation college families to graduate from high school with their associate’s degree.

The program, which is available to students attending either James Monroe High School or Spotsylvania High School, covers tuition, fees and books. It provides laptops to the students, who also receive tutoring, advising and academic counseling at no cost.

The Todd Academy students received their diplomas Tuesday, along with 641 other Germanna students, who all together were awarded 1,259 total degrees and certificates.

“Your diversity is amazing,” said William Thomas, chair of the Germanna Community College Board. “You are to be congratulated on your desire to better your life.”

To illustrate the diversity of Germanna graduates, Thomas asked those who are also parents, first-generation students or veterans, who received scholarships or whose journey to an associate’s degree took longer than two years, to stand.

The two student speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony also illustrated this diversity. Kofi Browne, a wife, mother of a teenager and vice president of the Student Government Association, read an A–Z list of factors that could have derailed the Germanna students’ educational careers—from bosses and children to procrastination and violence.

“You are more exceptional than your overwhelming circumstances,” she said. “We made it because we overcame.”

Student Government Association president Kristen Whelchel spoke about never thinking she’d be successful in school due to a diagnosis of central auditory processing disorder, which affected the way she learned.

When she started at Germanna, Whelchel said she was terrified her teachers would make fun of her, as others had done.

Instead, her two years at Germanna have been “extraordinary.”

“Everyone here tonight is on a journey,” Whelchel said. “Some get to their destinations quickly, while others take more time to reach their goals. Some journeys are frightening, and others are delightful, and most are somewhere in between.”

For Mosiniak, who grew up in Spotsylvania, the journey to the Gladys Todd Academy began in middle school. For the next few years, he attended summer camps sponsored by the program and kept it in his sight.

“Honestly, I was finding high school classes a little too easy and I wanted more of a challenge,” he said. “And free college was a big draw.”

The Todd Academy is designed for students like Mosiniak, who is black, was raised by a single mother—mom Sherry Mosiniak, 46, works as a front desk clerk at Fairfield Inn and Suites in Spotsylvania—and is the first in his family to pursue a college education.

Like Whelchel, he has what some might see as an additional barrier—he was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, as well as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, when he was a third-grader.

Tourette’s manifests differently in different people. For Mosiniak, it took the form of throat-clearing and motor tics—small, involuntary movements that would draw people’s attention, especially when he was in elementary school.

“Kids love to point out things that are different,” he said. “I thought [the tics were] my fault.”

Now, Mosiniak said, thanks to good friends who accepted him as he was, he doesn’t think of himself as any different from other kids.

“[Tourette’s] is just a part of who I am,” he said.

Though his mom joked that “seeing me struggling” must have inspired her son to pursue college, Mosiniak said it’s something he’s always wanted to do.

“Instead of dreading school, I would always kind of look forward to it,” he said.

College looked appealing to him because of the freedom to take classes he was really interested in.

At William & Mary, Mosiniak plans to major in math with the idea of becoming either an intelligence analyst or a pharmacist.

“Lucas is a true testament of what [the Gladys Todd Academy] stands for and the impact it has on the student. He has persevered in the face of adversity and will continue to do well in his journey to William & Mary,” said DeMareo Williams, Todd Academy program assistant.

Mosiniak said all 15 of this year’s Todd Academy graduates were accepted to and plan to attend college next year.

The other students in the cohort have become his best friends. The combination of support from peers as well as the program’s leaders have made the Todd Academy, “a better experience than most honors programs,” Mosiniak said.

The Gladys Todd Academy was initially funded by a $2.1 million gift from Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation, which is coming to an end. Continuing the program beyond the two years of the incoming cohort will require new funding.

“I really hope they get the funding and the schools stay on board,” Sherry Mosiniak said. “It’s a great opportunity and a great academic and learning experience.”

She said she always knew her son would succeed, but “seeing him do it is something different.”

Mosiniak said the Todd Academy program is tough but he recommends that anyone thinking about it to go for it.

“Even if you think you can’t, go for it anyway,” he said. “It’s always going to be a ‘no’ if you don’t try something.”

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Adele Uphaus–Conner: 540/735-1973 auphaus@freelancestar.com @flsadele

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