2012 Laurel Ridge graduate Meredith Dhillon has come a long way from the reluctant student coaxed into taking her first college classes by her husband. Now, a physician associate in Virginia Beach, she and her husband, Neil, recently became parents of three through adoption.
Dhillon’s journey to this point in her life is nothing short of impressive. When she was 16, she left her home in Kansas City, Mo, and became emancipated. She joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the first Gulf War, and earned her high school diploma through correspondence courses.
After four years in the Navy, Dhillon returned to Kansas City where she worked in a battery factory. In 2002 she headed to the East Coast where she had a great aunt. She met Neil, a pharmacist, and worked as an account manager for a payment transaction firm.
“Neil had been telling me forever to “go to college, you’re intelligent, you’re capable,’” Dhillon said. “I really didn’t believe in myself – college was for other people, not for me. I didn’t think I was smart enough. My husband actually dragged me in here to look at classes – which were starting the next day!”
Before she knew what had happened, Neil had registered her and paid for her biology class at Laurel Ridge. Still, she hesitated.
“I was terrified, I didn’t know if I was going to be smart enough or good enough, but the professors were always helpful,” she said. “After a couple semesters, I felt like I was on top of my game here.”
As she was completing her bachelor’s degree in biology, Dhillon’s advisor discouraged her from applying for graduate school, saying her community college beginnings would hold her back. She proved the advisor wrong by being one of just 40 out of 3,000 applicants accepted into the extremely competitive PA program.
Dhillon went on to graduate from the Anne Arundel Community College/University of Maryland Baltimore collaborative physician assistant program. Physician assistants are now referred to as physician associates.
With her master’s degree in psychopharmacology and Certificate of Added Qualifications in psychiatry, Dhillon works for a psychotherapy practice in Virginia Beach. Many of her patients are naval service members or children of service members.
In August of 2021, Dhillon and her husband began fostering siblings Donta, 14, Logan, 10 and Amaya, 8. They adopted the children, who are from the Winchester area, in June 2022.
“Neil was in the Big Brothers Program in Winchester and was a big brother to Donta,” Dhillon said. “We’ve known him since he was 7. We just adore him. Their mom called and said they were in foster care. The kids were familiar with us. Donta was bonded.”
While the children have had to overcome much in their young lives, they’re thriving in Virginia Beach where they are caught up academically, and involved in sports, music and other activities.
“They’re blossoming,” Dhillon said. “They’re good kids. They’re happy. I wouldn’t change a thing. We had just bought a bigger house near the beach. We were at a point in our life where we were settled in our careers. I have a psychiatric background. It was just like fate, almost.”
Dhillon has fond memories of Laurel Ridge, and remembers the professors as being caring and passionate about teaching.
“Attending Laurel Ridge was the best experience ever,” Dhillon said. “The professors care about learning, they care about teaching.”
Having been out to the Winchester area more often recently, she has warm feelings when she passes the campus.
“I have so many great memories from that school, and I’m so thankful, and the education I got there was so wonderful,” she said. “I always look at Laurel Ridge as home. That’s where it all started.”
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.