December 16 marked a day of new beginnings for both the University of Maryland University College itself and the 7212 members of its Summer-Fall Class of 2017 graduates—about 1200 of whom walked the stage during the university’s first-ever winter commencement to receive associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees at two separate ceremonies at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland. In all, this class of graduates represented 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 24 countries and territories.
“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.
Miyares offered a special note of thanks to the more than 5,000 educators and mentors of UMUC graduates worldwide, as well as the family members and friends who supported UMUC graduates “in so many ways” during the course of their studies.
He also offered a special salute to the active-duty servicemembers and veterans among UMUC’s graduates. “Your service to our country has earned you the respect and admiration of a grateful nation and we are so pleased that you selected UMUC as your university of choice,” Miyares said.
Willian Shorter Jr., the student member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, the governing body for public universities throughout the state, delivered opening remarks as well at both morning and afternoon ceremonies. He told graduates that of all the students he represents, those at UMUC inspire him most because of their hard work ethic and determination.
“If the education you received here at UMUC transformed your life in a positive way, imagine if you used that education to transform our nation and world,” Shorter said. “That is not only the charge of receiving a higher education degree, it is also the responsibility of having one.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and 2016 Miss USA Deshauna Barber (’15) delivered winter-commencement keynote addresses that counseled graduates to use their hard-earned degrees to stay curious and informed about the world around them, do their part to better their communities—and to never quit in the pursuit of their dreams.
A captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, morning commencement speaker Deshauna Barber earned her Master of Science in Management from UMUC in 2015 and is the first woman serving in the military to be crowned Miss USA (she won the Miss USA pagaent representing the District of Columbia). During her year-long tenure as Miss USA, she partnered with organizations that support military personnel and veterans and has been a tireless advocate for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now a full-time motivational speaker, Barber travels the world discussing mental illness in the military, overcoming child abuse, diversity and inclusion—and the importance of being a fearless dream chaser.
She told graduates at UMUC’s morning commencement ceremony that in her quest to become Miss USA, she competed and lost six times before winning the title. But, in her estimation, we will all fail a lot in life, “a whole lot.” Failure is simply the natural course of things, and it can also be your best friend by kick-starting your will to succeed, Barber said.
“Telling me no is like adding fuel to a fire that is now set ablaze. I love additional reasons to work harder,” she said, adding that in the reality of life we will all hear “No” more often than “Yes.”
“I ask only one thing of you all after you leave this graduation. Do not fear failure. But, please, [do] be terrified of regret. Giving up is the birth of regret.”
Barber challenged graduates to fight, to work, to not stop at graduation, “and believe so heavily in your aspirations that you, too, will not fear “No” but, instead, will choose to welcome it!”
View Capt. Deshauna Barber’s keynote address highlights.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who has been referenced as a tireless advocate for both increasing educational and job training opportunities for individuals of all ages and offering common-sense solutions to difficult national issues, had three common sense requests of graduates attending UMUC’s afternoon commencement ceremony—the last of them an admittedly “big” one, he said.
First, he asked graduates to stay curious and informed about the world as well as about debate on the “big issues” swirling around us. Second, he asked that they stay engaged in that public debate.
“Facts are stubborn things,” Van Hollen said. “We all have an obligation to dig deeper, to figure out what is true and what is not true . . . and we must all do a better job of listening to the opinions of others and questioning our own assumptions and premises.”
Van Hollen, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, has lived in India, Sri Lanka, and Turkey as the son of a foreign service officer, and travelled extensively throughout the world, said it is often difficult for those individuals living elsewhere who lack the rights and freedoms we enjoy in the United States to understand why all Americans do not more fully exercise their voting and other rights.
“Democracy is a participatory sport. And, so, I do ask . . . and I know it’s a big ask . . . that in the middle of everything you’re doing—to seek out the facts, stay engaged and have a conversation with somebody with different political views or different opinions . . . that you participate more directly in the political process,” he said.
The world needs dreamers, and the world needs doers, Van Hollen told graduates, but most of all the world needs dreamers who do. “So, on this occasion, I ask all of you to . . . go out and have wonderful fulfilling lives and do your part to help make our community and our state and our country and our world an even better place.”
View Sen. Van Hollen’s keynote address highlights.
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.
Juan Perez, Bachelor of Science in Management Studies, delivered the student address at UMUC’s Saturday morning ceremony and told graduates that they can achieve greatness if they believe in themselves.
As it happened, Perez was leading a relief mission in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria when auditions for the student commencement-speaker role were being held. So, the U.S. Marine Corps veteran with multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt hiked several miles to an elevation where he could get a cell signal and delivered, from memory, what turned out to be his winning speech.
The once middle school drop-out who summed up his life’s options as “jail, drugs, or death,” credited a dedicated Franciscan friend, Brother Tim, for putting him on track to earn his GED and inspiring him “not to be better than others, but to be better than the person I used to be.”
After failing his Military Aptitude Test “not once, not twice, but four times,” it was his encounter with a Marine Corps recruiter who propelled him toward UMUC and earning a college degree.
“He said, ‘Son, if you want to get into my beloved Marine Corps, then bring me back 15 credits,” Perez said. “And, finally, I came to terms . . . and discovered my ability to fully commit to something and see it through.”
Reflecting on his past, Perez said the path to personal betterment and success is clear. “There is no such thing as coincidence. There is only purpose, faith, and determination. To succeed, you have to start by believing in yourself.”
See Juan Perez speech highlights.
On Saturday afternoon, Antwan King, Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation, challenged graduates to “say ‘Yes’ to those things that scare you.”
King himself persevered through a personally frightening experience when he was selected for—and agreed to participate in—the national television program, Roadtrip Nation: Life Hackers, effectively laying bare his deepest insecurities for the viewing public to see.
“I was nervous and often second-guessed my decision,” King said. It meant the “world” would get a long hard look at the guy who, for much of his life, had been overlooked and frequently told by many that he would never be more than “just average.”
“Everyone watching would see just how much I struggled to chase a dream that I didn’t even think was attainable,” King said.
But, the documentary program also would expose viewers to King’s other side, the fight and determination that motivated him to work two jobs—sometimes changing and sleeping in his clunker of a green Nissan Altima with missing door handles.
King was still struggling with his decision before Roadtrip Nation filming began when someone shared with him the story of a 14-year-old Cuban teen who was permanently separated from his family after his father was imprisoned by Fidel Castro. “And I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I should just stop complaining,’” King said.
That Cuban teen, King revealed to graduates, was UMUC President Javier Miyares. Things worked out well for King, too. He spends his days uncovering criminal activity as the newest member of the payment intelligence team at Visa, Inc.
‘I don’t know about you, but through this journey, I learned to see the power in hard work, because that’s when we are most determined. A life without struggle is by far an uninspiring life,” King said.
He challenged the Summer-Fall Class of 2017 to use their struggle and hard work to become part of a story that will lift others up.
See Antwan King speech highlights.
Each ceremony featured a student singer who performed The Star-Spangled Banner and the UMUC Alma Mater.
Saturday morning, Dec. 16: Jessica N. Lasker ’17, Master of Business Administration
Saturday afternoon, Dec. 16: Cearah Camp-Green ’17, Master of Science in Management
WATCH THE COMPLETE CEREMONIES
Saturday, Dec. 16, morning ceremony
Saturday, Dec. 16, afternoon ceremony
UMUC will celebrate its stateside doctoral graduates, winter MBA graduates, and all spring candidates at a series of commencements in May 2018. More than 3,000 of the nearly 6,000 eligible graduates nationwide are expected to attend the spring ceremonies at College Park, Maryland.
The doctoral ceremony will take place on May 10. Ceremonies for associate, bachelor’s and master’s candidates will take place on May 12 and 13. More information will be available starting in January.
UMUC also holds global commencement ceremonies for military personnel and their dependents at installations around the world—at Tokyo, Okinawa, South Korea, Europe, and Guam.
FACTS ABOUT THE UMUC SUMMER-FALL CLASS OF 2017:
- Number of graduates worldwide: 7212
- Graduates represent: all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 24 countries and territories
- Youngest graduate: 18
- Oldest graduate: 80
- Average age: 35
∙ Associate’s = 1231
∙ Bachelor’s = 3767
∙ Master’s = 2291
See more about the University of Maryland University College inaugural winter commencement on UMUC’s Facebook page.