Mother’s Day weekend marked a new beginning for 9,023 University of Maryland University College Class of 2017 stateside graduates—about 3,000 of whom made their way across the stage to receive associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees at three separate UMUC commencement ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday May 13 and 14 at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland.
On the count of three, they shifted the tassel on their caps from right to left and embarked on the next leg of life’s journey accompanied by the joyous cheers and applause of family and friends.
“I speak for everyone at UMUC when I say that it has been our honor to help you in the pursuit of your goals and your dreams,” President Javier Miyares told graduates. “This year, UMUC celebrates its 70th anniversary, and today, you represent our greatest achievement,” he added.
In all, at ceremonies held globally, UMUC celebrated the 11,145 graduates worldwide from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 26 other countries and territories who earned degrees this year.
UMUC graduates included 27 doctoral candidates, who were hooded and had degrees conferred in a separate ceremony at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on Thursday evening May 11.
Bryan Booth, doctoral program vice dean and collegiate professor, The Graduate School, told graduates that their degrees represented a beginning, not just an ending.
“You are commencing into this community of scholar-practitioners. You are also commencing your 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,” he said.
Guest speaker and Doctor of Management David Scott Phillips ’16, said that he views the scholar-practitioner “duality” as a guide to the positive contributions that he and fellow graduates can make as they progress in their careers.
“It’s a big world out there,” said Phillips, who is a subject-matter expert with 30 years’ experience in the clean air industry. “Maybe people like us can make it a little better.”
Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Florent Groberg (U.S. Army, Ret.), Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, and Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine delivered this year’s keynote addresses. They counseled graduates to use their hard-earned degrees to create positive change, to seek worthy challenges in work and life—and to keep learning and developing those skills that will position them well for the opportunities that will come their way.
“You are going to experience your share of doubts and disappointments. It’s inevitable,” Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford told graduates at the Saturday morning commencement.
But, he said, with the “benefit of hindsight,” if graduates follow their instincts in times of uncertainty instead of taking the easy—or obvious—path, they may very well find the success they seek in unexpected places.
Rutherford, who holds a bachelor’s in economics and political science, a master’s in communications management, and a law degree, said that as a new graduate he never even considered being an elected official.
Today, he said, it’s a humbling experience to work in an office once used by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the time when the Maryland State House was the temporary home of the Continental Congress.
“If you take anything from my story, let it be that where you start doesn’t have to be where you finish,” said Rutherford, who urged graduates to live by President John F. Kennedy’s admonition that those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.
“You don’t have to get it right the first time,” Rutherford said. “But all the missteps—all the failures—could eventually add up to something that is greater than what you could imagine.”
Prior to the Lt. Governor’s address, D’Ana Johnson, a member of the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents, the governing body for UMUC and other public universities within the State of Maryland, offered graduates special congratulations from USM on behalf of the Regents.
“You are graduating from one of the most dynamic institutions of higher education in the world,” Johnson said, citing UMUC as the largest university in Maryland with more than 265,000 online course enrollments, the world leader in online education—and a global force, with a presence in more than 20 countries and territories around the world.
“As UMUC celebrates its 70th anniversary year, today you become an enduring part of that proud and impressive legacy.”
On Saturday afternoon, Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Florent Groberg (U.S. Army, Ret.) served double duty as both honored keynote—and the student speaker.
“I have to apologize to some of my classmates,” said Groberg ’17, Master of Science in Management with a specialization in Intelligence Management. “I really took it to heart when one of my professors said, ‘challenge your classmates in the discussions’ … just a little too hard at times.”
Groberg’s story is well known to UMUC—even national audiences. In 2012, while leading a security detail in Afghanistan, he thwarted an attack by two suicide bombers, tackling one of them seconds before his bomb detonated, and saved countless lives in the process.
But four others perished that day, and Groberg suffered devastating injuries that have taken years and more than 30 surgeries to repair. As Groberg put it, his career as a military officer ended in eight seconds.
“I didn’t come back from Afghanistan the way I wanted to,” he said. Struggling to recover … from his injuries, from survivor’s guilt, from his loss of self-identity … he contemplated the future from his hospital bed and decided that finishing his education would be the best way to find his next passion—and bring his other assets to the table.
Groberg said he picked UMUC because it had “been here for the military for 70 years” and he was looking for a partner like those he had had in combat, a partner he could feel confidence in and one that would “know who I am.”
He got more than he hoped for. The man who admittedly had closed himself off to people for a while told graduates that his experience at UMUC was about more than getting a degree. Becoming part of a global community of students, absorbing “thoughts and views” completely different from his own helped him regain himself.
“It honestly gave me strength in my recovery. You are part of my story. You helped over the last few years to shape the individual that I am today … and I am just as grateful as I can be to share this moment with all of you,” said Groberg, who urged graduates to join him in working each day to be a better person.
“If all of us here can challenge ourselves every day to do one good thing … that is how you change the world in a positive [way].”
Groberg continues to serve the military community and our nation as Director of Veterans Outreach for the Boeing Company.
“It is the accepted role of a graduation speaker to offer a few pieces of worldly advice,” said Norman R. Augustine, a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, former undersecretary and acting secretary of the Army, and former chairman and CEO of Lockheed-Martin.
But in his keynote address on Sunday afternoon, a speech filled with wry humor and sage counsel, Augustine confessed that all he recalled of the keynote speech delivered at his own graduation was that it was delivered in Latin. It was, of course, “a thrill for those of us who were engineers!”
Nevertheless, the rocket scientist—Augustine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University—told graduates he would offer them eight pieces of advice, then quoted New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s promise to his new managers, “I won’t keep you long!”
Foremost, in his estimation, maintaining an upstanding reputation is more important than one’s health and a college degree, though both are essential to success, Augustine said. “I have had highly accomplished friends who destroyed their lives because of a single slip in the reputational sphere.”
And, he said, in his observation motivation beats talent in most undertakings almost every time. “I would hasten to emphasize that the combination of motivation and talent is virtually unbeatable,” he added.
As graduates look to the future, it’s important to have a general sense of where you want to go, said Augustine, who assured that he subscribes to the perspective of the “great philosopher,” Yogi Berra, who warned: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up somewhere else.”
But it’s best to create a flexible plan and prepare broadly to better take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, he advised. “As a colleague of mine used to remind, ‘When opportunity knocks, try to answer the door!’”
Augustine encouraged graduates to embrace lifelong learning. The alternative is to be professionally middle-aged a decade from now, he said. The best path to success, he suggested, is to focus on the responsibilities at hand rather than worrying about “getting ahead.”
Set big goals, seek worthy challenges, and engage in worthy pursuits outside of your regular responsibilities,” Augustine said. “If you do, you will find much greater satisfaction in life.”
He recalled the tattered, water-stained letter he received from a former colleague whom he hadn’t heard from in years. On the day his friend retired, he had stopped by Augustine’s office and confessed that he had no idea what he was going to do with his free time. Augustine suggested that he become a Red Cross volunteer.
The letter began: “’I have just spent my entire day standing in water up to my knees, handing out rolls of toilet paper … For some reason, I thought of you!’”
It concluded: “’It was one of the finest days in my life,’” Augustine said.
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.
Gleanza Industrious, who delivered the student address at UMUC’s Saturday morning ceremony said: “There is a saying that goes, ‘the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.’ But after my journey at UMUC, I am happy to say that it no longer applies.”
Industrious ’17, Bachelor of Science in psychology, originally attended college in Wisconsin. Far from home, in new and unfamiliar surroundings, she had trouble adjusting to the transition from high school to the university regimen.
Also, she confessed, she lacked solid writing skills and was not the most disciplined person. Lack of time management combined with an onslaught of “dreaded” term papers signaled a bad ending to her freshman year.
So, she took time off, began working, and when she was ready to try again, she looked to UMUC. “My first semester went well, [but] the second semester truly tested my capabilities, as I had to take my first upper-level writing class.”
When her professor noted the many careless errors that she easily could have avoided by properly revising her work, Industrious said she was quickly humbled—but not bowed. “That class sparked a change in my mindset and how I behaved. I developed a greater appreciation for my support system. I also began investing more energy in my work.”
More importantly, Industrious said, she took advantage of the Effective Writing Center and not only received an “A” in the course but also gained the professor as a great resource.
Her UMUC journey has shown her that even when your goals seem unattainable, you have the potential to achieve them if you apply effort and seek help when needed, she said. “With the right resources and attitude, there is no limit to your accomplishments. I want everyone here to feel the same, to feel equipped to go out and achieve your goals.”
Industrious, who one day hopes to become a resource for other students as a school psychologist, also encouraged fellow graduates to share their skills with others and to remain positive in the face of any trials they encounter along their journeys. “I know that we will triumph as we reach for our dreams!”
On Sunday afternoon, Gene Sizemore ‘17, Master of Science in management, told fellow graduates that, like theirs, his path to graduation was full of twists and turns.
At the age of 17, he dropped out of high school and joined the Army because he believed that that path offered his “only chance” to keep from being a burden on society. Once there, he said, he was “surrounded” by highly motivated and successful leaders who were making a difference. And he came to realize that he needed to complete his education if he ever hoped to become like them.
He might have stopped after completing his associate’s degree at UMUC. “Honestly, I believed that was as far as I could go,” Sizemore said. “But college put this bug in me. More than once I found myself cramming for exams in the back of a cargo plane flying in or out of Afghanistan.”
Eventually, he completed his bachelor’s degree and, now, after nearly “four decades of academic challenges,” he’s earned his master’s. But, Sizemore said, he realizes that what’s most important to him is not successfully completing the degree, but what he and his fellow graduates do with that success.
After all, he noted, the world is full of successful people, yet we still have failing schools and homelessness. “And we keep getting it wrong on something as basic to life as drinking water.”
Sizemore said his degree represents a call to action, and he hopes other graduates will view theirs as the same. “During our time at UMUC, we have learned how to solve problems, how to defend an argument. We’ve learned how to fail and recover.
“Most importantly, we have learned how to harness curiosity to deepen our understanding. As college graduates, these are our super powers.”
He challenged the Class of 2017 to look around, find out where they are most needed, where they can use their super powers to make a real difference—then strive every day to position themselves to be that difference.
“Standing here today I see 1,200 graduates, representing 8 critical career fields, each one of us entirely capable of taking on the toughest problems of our time. And I say to you, someone to your left or your right is going to step up and be the difference. And my only question is, will it be you?”
UMUC also holds commencement ceremonies for military personnel and their dependents at installations around the world. Global ceremonies this year were:
• Tokyo, April 8
• Okinawa, April 15
• South Korea, April 22
• Europe, April 29
• Guam, May 13
FACTS ABOUT THE UMUC CLASS OF 2017:
• Number of graduates stateside: 9,023
• Number of graduates worldwide: 11,145
• Average age of graduates: 35
• Oldest graduate: 82
• Youngest graduate: 19
DEGREES AWARDED THIS YEAR:
• Associate’s = 1609
• Bachelor’s = 5950
• Master’s = 3681
• Doctorate = 27
For more information about UMUC’s 2017 commencement, please visit http://sites.umuc.edu/commencement/