Amid the fanfare of faculty, family and friends, nearly 3,600 of the 9,023 University of Maryland University College stateside graduates walked the stage and received their master’s, bachelor’s and associate’s diplomas in three separate ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, when UMUC held its 2016 stateside commencement exercises at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland.
In all, at ceremonies held globally, UMUC celebrated the 9,989 graduates worldwide from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 22 other countries and territories who earned degrees this year.
UMUC’s 49 doctoral candidates―one of the university’s largest groups of doctoral graduates―were honored and their degrees conferred in a separate ceremony at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on Friday morning May 13.
Bryan Booth, vice dean of The Graduate School, told graduates they were both commencing into a community of scholar-practitioners, as well as membership into a doctoral alumni group of more than 400 graduates with a wealth of opportunities to assist current and future post-graduate students in their quest to earn a doctorate.
Guest speaker Charanne Smith, a recent graduate of UMUC’s Doctor of Management in Community College Policy Administration program, who said her parents instilled in her the importance of being a voice for the voiceless, asked graduates to be generous in sharing their journey.
“Invite and encourage others who may not have as many opportunities, resources or confidence [as you] to find and create their own journey,” Smith said.
A Medal of Honor winner along with Maryland state and county officials were on hand during the weekend to deliver motivational keynote addresses urging graduates to use their hard-earned degrees to create positive change and support others in their effort to realize the dream of a higher education.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who spoke at Saturday morning’s commencement, said that UMUC holds a special place in his heart because it serves as a shining example of access to quality higher education by allowing students to structure their education based on where they are at any given time in their life’s journey.
“That’s powerful. Whether you’re a working mom, in the military, an entry-level staff person or just as a second career, UMUC provides a learning environment that enables you to succeed,” he said, adding that such access is about changing lives.
Baker challenged students to savor the graduation experience. “Enjoy the moment. Take the pictures. Take the cards from your family, which I hope have money in them,” Baker said.
“But I hope what you will do most of all is remember. Remember what it took to get this degree. Remember the sacrifices you made. And then, give back. Give back to those communities that you’re going back to. Provide the opportunities for the next generation of folks to sit right where you are, to obtain their higher education and to change lives,” he said.
Medal of Honor recipient, retired Army Capt. Florent “Flo” Groberg, keynote speaker on Saturday afternoon, was born in France, grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001.
He entered the Army in 2008, Groberg told graduates, because “I wanted to earn that right to call myself an American.”
On August 8, 2012, when the security detail Groberg was leading in the Kunar Province in East Afghanistan was targeted by two suicide bombers, he said he knew it was not going to be a good day.
Pushing comrades aside, he subdued one attacker, who had already triggered his dead man switch. “I spent three years after that in the hospital. I had a lot of surgeries, but I can’t complain. I’m here right now with all of you. I’m lucky. I’m honored,” said Groberg, adding that he didn’t always feel that way.
There were plenty of ugly days and ugly nights, he said, until a quadruple amputee walked into his room to remind him that it was a great day to be an American, a great day to be alive, that he had a second chance at life and needed to earn the right to be here.
“When he walked out of that room I said to myself, this will be the last day that I feel sorry for myself. I will live the rest of my life to be a better person and make a positive difference for [the] community and our country and our world,” Groberg said.
That journey started by continuing his education. “I always told my soldiers, ‘Go out there and learn. Nothing negative can come out of that, only positive things,’” he said.
Groberg, who is working toward his Master of Science in Management with a specialization in Intelligence Management at UMUC, said he’s typical of UMUC students in many ways―he’s juggled classes around life, family, a full-time job.
“You know what I did on November 12? I got the medal, right, which was an emotional moment for me. But after I got back to the hotel, I had to finish my paper. And I did it! You have all done it. You are living proof right here,” Groberg said.
“You are our leaders. This is what we’ve needed in this country and this world, individuals who are successful, that can accomplish the mission and the task under tremendous pressure, multi-tasking. This is you! We are so proud of you.”
He concluded by saying: “I’m proud of being an American. And I sure as heck am proud to be a student at UMUC.”
Said The Honorable Brian Frosh, Attorney General of the State of Maryland and Chairman of the Maryland Cyber Security Council, “It is a great honor for me to be here with you. I’m impressed by all of you.”
Frosh, who delivered the commencement keynote address on Sunday, declared it a day worthy of a wise, profound, inspiring and, perhaps, poetic speech filled with advice that the graduates gathered before him could take to heart and remember for the rest of their lives.
“I’ll be looking forward to hearing that speech too!” he said.
In the meantime, Frosh channeled a Greek mathematician and scholar, an English physicist, a cowboy philosopher and humorist, and a rock and roll icon to spread some collective wisdom and underscore the notion that learning ought to be a lifelong process.
He said it seemed ironic to him that he’d be giving anyone advice. He didn’t have the answers and wasn’t sure any one person did. Still, Frosh passed along to graduates the best job advice he said he’d ever gotten.
The first time he ever thought of running for office, a friend with political know-how told him, “The best thing you can do is run and win. And the second best thing you can do is run, and lose.” That sounded crazy to him at the time, he said, recalling how terrified he was of running.
“I stood outside the first house for about 10 minutes just working up the nerve to knock on the door, and when I finally did, no one was home. I was so relieved.”
Ultimately he got into the swing of things, worked day and night for about a year. “And sure enough, I lost. It hurt. It hurt a lot,” Frosh said.
But in hindsight, he realized that running for office the first time had taught him how to run. He ran again four years later and won.
“And the point of this is, we are all going to fail. We all fail once in a while. If you don’t fail, you’re not trying hard enough,” he said.
As cowboy philosopher and humorist Will Rogers said, “good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” The best thing we can do is learn from our failures.
We can also learn from the collective wisdom of others. “Isaac Newton said, ‘if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Every text book you read, every television show you watch represents the collective learning of millions of people” Frosh said.
“Thousands of years ago the Greek scholar Archimedes said, ‘give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.’ The fact that we know that is a good example of collective learning,” he continued.
Archimedes was talking about leverage, Frosh explained, and the knowledge gained at UMUC gives the Class of 2016 powerful leverage―skills that throughout history have changed lives, he said.
Our overcrowded prisons, neighborhood conditions that dampen opportunity, a tidal wave of refugees bred by war and terrorism, global climate change all speak to the need for change.
“You’ve juggled careers, family, school, military service … if anybody can make changes, you can.”
Frosh offered one last quotation, prompting a laugh. “This [is] from one of America’s great poets, Jerry Garcia.” He added, for those who didn’t know, that Garcia was the front man for the rock band, The Grateful Dead.
“For those of you who don’t know who the Grateful Dead are, I’m afraid UMUC has failed you.” More laughter.
“[Garcia] said, ‘Somebody’s gotta do something. It’s just so incredibly pathetic that it’s gotta be us.’ And it does gotta be us, folks. You now have a place to stand. Move the world. Congratulations, and good luck.”
Each year, the university selects several graduating students, who represent the special attributes of the graduating class, to deliver commencement addresses to their fellow graduates.
Monique Wardrick (BA Communications Studies), who spoke at the Saturday morning ceremony, said she hails from a typical New Orleans family that was rich in love and not much else.
Wardrick placed her college career on hold a trio of times―first to serve in the U.S. Air Force, then to deal with the realities of divorce and single parenthood, and finally to come to the aid of family members when her hometown was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“Dropping out of college a third time felt like a third strike. I gave up.” But several years ago, her husband, Dermaine, also a member of UMUC’s Class of 2016, encouraged her to dust off her dream just one more time, Wardrick said.
“We are all here today because we did not give up. However rocky our roads may have been, they were paved with the luminous promise of this day,” she told graduates.
In the face of what, at times, seemed an insurmountable wall of obstacles in their path, she said, members of the Class of 2016 stayed the course.
“We did not quit—we laced up our boots and climbed that wall one foot at a time, [and] today, we kick it down! “
The self-described 45-year-old wife, mother, grandmother, native New Orleanian, U.S. Air Force veteran, legal support professional and proud graduate of UMUC encouraged her fellow graduates to energize their communities, attract constructive engagement, and chase the darkness of intolerance whenever and wherever they find it.
“And let us illuminate a path for those who have grown cynical of dreams, or who have resigned themselves to the belief that goals have expiration dates,” said Wardrick. “I am living proof there are no statute of limitations on goals, and it’s never too late to chase dreams.”
Army Sgt. Eleazar Craig (BA Communications Studies) said his UMUC story spans more than 15 years, 10 military duty stations, four combat deployments, two marriages, and the births of his three beautiful children.
“Like many graduates, I’m here because of my family’s support, the Army and the UMUC professors who all contributed to this culminating moment,” he told the commencement audience Saturday afternoon.
He had days, he said, that began at 6 a.m. and should have ended around 5 p.m., but that’s when his “educational day” began with long commutes across Germany and Korea for 6 p.m. classes that ended at 10 o’clock at night.
“One day, my colonel asked, ‘how do you do it, the early morning physical training, work, school and late night studying?’”
Craig said he told his colonel the same thing that his grandfather used to tell him: “Nine to five is work. Everything you do before and after is success.”
To all the working graduates present Craig said, “You embody my grandfather’s words.”
To the parents of his fellow graduates, he added, “I assure you that your sacrifice will benefit your family for generations to come.”
To graduates wearing the uniform as he does, Craig rendered a salute to both their service, and for adding another commitment to their duty.
“Know that you are a special collegiate-military generation. You’ve achieved educational success during more than a decade of two wars, filled with 12-, 15- and 18-month combat deployments. You are the next greatest generation,” he said.
Now equipped with the knowledge gained at UMUC, Craig told graduates, they have earned the responsibility to take action. And in this election year with so much chatter about America’s problems, Craig suggests we would do well to look to the Class of 2016 for solutions.
“You’ll open businesses that create new jobs. You’ll organize protests, working with community and city leaders to protect and advance civil rights. You’ll work in our state and federal agencies and departments to advance national security, immigration and foreign policy.
“You will use your purchasing power to support businesses that strengthen our nation’s economy. Class of 2016, we will keep America great,” Craig said.
Michael Franklin summa cum laude (BS Political Science) told fellow Class of 2016 graduates on Sunday afternoon that, while his story isn’t as impressive as so many others, it is a typical UMUC story.
He enrolled in college upon graduating high school in London, England, but dropped out, he said, because he truly disliked the experience.
“I hated every minute of it. And when I dropped out I thought, ‘that was the end of my education.’ I’d never get a degree, never get to wear a long robe and a silly hat, never get to take a graduation photo like my brother and sister before me.”
Time and again, his then girlfriend Sonya―now his wife and set to deliver their first child next week―had listened to him “cry down the phone from England.” He didn’t want to quit school, he said, but he couldn’t bear to stay at a school where he was so miserable.
So don’t drop out, she told him. Try again.
And Franklin took her advice. He went back to school, first at Montgomery College and then at UMUC, where he met hundreds of people just like him, he said.
“Maybe this wasn’t our first attempt at getting our degree, but we knew damn sure it was going to be our last one. This was our chance. And we weren’t going to waste it,” said Franklin, adding “We did this the hard way.”.
The Class of 2016 found time for college work after the kids had gone to bed and the workday was long gone. They wrote essays on the bus and took notes at traffic lights. They stayed up into the wee hours until the work was done, he said.
“So here’s to us. Here’s to the grit and determination that got us here. Here’s to proving wrong the people who said we’d never get this far. Here’s to standing here today with the people who knew we would.”
Franklin toasted, too, the professors who made students think, the fellow students who did the same, and the friends the world over—in Korea, or Germany or right here in Maryland—on the other side of the computer screen who graduates will never meet in person.
“Getting to this point took unbelievable courage and poise. We are parents and children, soldiers, sailors, and airmen, husbands and wives, teenagers and retirees. We are unstoppable. We are brilliant,” Franklin said.
“We have proven that nothing can stand in our way. We are the UMUC Class of 2016, and we are destined for greatness.”
View videos of stateside commencement ceremonies and keynote addresses:
UMUC Doctoral Commencement: Friday Ceremony – May 13, 2016
UMUC Commencement: Saturday Morning Ceremony – May 14, 2016
UMUC Commencement: Saturday Afternoon Ceremony – May 14, 2016
UMUC Commencement: Sunday Afternoon Ceremony – May 15, 2016
UMUC Commencement Student Speaker: Sgt. Eleazar Craig ’16 – Sat. Afternoon – May 14, 2016
UMUC Commencement Keynote: Captain Florent Groberg – Saturday Afternoon, May 14, 2016
UMUC Commencement Student Speaker: Michael Franklin ’16 – Sunday, May 15, 2016
UMUC Commencement Keynote: Rushern L. Baker III – Saturday Morning – May 14, 2016
UMUC Commencement Student Speaker: Monique Wardrick ’16 – Saturday Morning, May 14, 2016
UMUC Commencement Keynote: Brian E. Frosh – Sunday, May 15, 2016
THE GOLDEN TASSEL:
At the New-Graduate Reception on Friday evening May 13, UMUC’s Director of Alumni Engagement Kaitlin O’Connor presented two graduating students with a “Golden Tassel” symbolizing the hours and effort expended, and the knowledge gained in the journey toward realizing a degree.
O’Connor praised awardee Simone Greggs, a single-mother of two, for being so motivated to serve as a strong role model for her children that she authored a book and started her own non-profit while achieving her bachelor’s in communication studies.
She said of awardee Benjamin Heffron, an active-duty U.S. Army soldier and father of four boys, that he lives by the motto, “Failure is not an option. It is an opportunity.” Heffron, who graduated with a master’s in cybersecurity will return to UMUC this fall to work on his MBA.
“By wearing these tassels this weekend, you will represent the entire class and their dedication to education and lifelong learning,” O’Connor said.
UMUC also held commencement ceremonies for military personnel and their dependents at installations around the world:
- Tokyo, April 9
- Okinawa, April 16
- South Korea, April 23
- Europe, April 30
- Guam, May 14
Check out messages, photos, and stories from UMUC graduates on Facebook and follow the conversation on Twitter using #UMUCGrad.
FACTS ABOUT THE UMUC CLASS OF 2016:
Number of graduates stateside: 9,023
Number of graduates worldwide: 9,989
Average age of graduates: 35
Oldest graduate: 75
Youngest graduate: 19
DEGREES AWARDED THIS YEAR:
Associate’s = 1,383
Bachelor’s = 5,429
Master’s = 3,260
Doctorate = 44
For more information about UMUC’s 2016 commencement, please visit http://www.umuc.edu/commencement.