When retired U.S. Army combat veteran Shamir Taylor, his wife, Nyema, and his father, retired Army Master Sgt. Raymond Richardson, all graduated together during the University of Maryland University College morning commencement ceremony May 18, the trio became one of the latest in a long line of “family-groups” to earn UMUC degrees and graduate at the same time.
The Taylors and Richardson were among approximately 3,000 of the 13,242 Class of 2019 graduates worldwide who attended one of three separate UMUC stateside commencement ceremonies at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland, on May 18 and 19.
“it was a long time coming,” said Richardson, who had begun chasing a degree about 35 years ago but set aside the pursuit amid military service, family and work responsibilities. The 62-year-old said earning his degree gave him a great sense of accomplishment. But he added he was proudest that his son and daughter-in-law had taken on “the mantle” and completed their degrees while working, caring for two children, and dealing with Nyema’s cancer treatments.
Diagnosed in 2017, she said her experience over the past two years has been both rough and humbling. “Along with the love from my family and my friends … the support was amazing.” But she still needed to find her “spark” she said and studying at UMUC kept her going and feeling alive.
The family’s story received nationwide news coverage. Learn more by watching the Fox 5 and WUSA 9 feature stories.
During his ceremonial opening remarks, UMUC President Javier Miyares noted that the university reached two important milestones in 2019. “This year, UMUC is commemorating its 70th anniversary of educating our U.S. troops and their families in Europe. “I am honored to offer a special salute to our active duty members of the U.S. military and to our veterans who are graduating today. Your service to our country has earned you the respect and admiration of a grateful nation.”
UMUC is also approaching another historic milestone, he said. “This summer, our name will officially change to University of Maryland Global Campus to better reflect our status as a respected state university with a global reach.”
Find links to each of the complete UMUC Stateside Commencement 2019 ceremonies as well as to individual speeches at the close of this article.
A University Mission in Both Deed and Name
Louis Pope, a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, the governing body for UMUC and other public universities within the state, spoke at both the Saturday morning and afternoon ceremonies and elaborated. “As you graduate from UMUC know that it is one of the most dynamic institutions of higher learning in the world, a global leader in education offering instruction online and onsite to some 90,000 working adults around the world each year.”
In fact, Pope pointed out, just a week earlier he had participated at the UMUC commencement ceremony on Guam. “That’s about as far as you can get from College Park,” he said. “[UMUC] is truly a global force with a presence in more than 20 countries and territories throughout the world.”
It was for these and “many other” reasons that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed legislation in April changing the UMUC name to University of Maryland Global Campus effective July 1, Pope said. Doing so more accurately conveys the university’s public mission and global reach, he added.
“No matter what direction your life now takes, no matter what challenges you next confront, know that your education here at UMUC and the new University of Maryland Global Campus has prepared you for a future of accomplishment and achievement,” Pope said.
Commencement Keynote Speakers
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Command Sgt. Maj. Lynice Thorpe-Noel and Tech Entrepreneur Frank Islam performed the daunting task of striving to provide context, wisdom—even a vision for the way forward—to a special class of graduates who, unlike their more traditional peers, have already long since made the transition to the “world of life” and work beyond high school.
On Saturday morning May 18, Army Command Sgt. Major Lynice Thorpe-Noel, the first woman to be appointed command sergeant major of the Army’s Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, told graduates that “things have a way of miraculously working out when you persevere. And, today, all of you have proven that.”
Thorpe-Noel, who holds a master’s degree in management and leadership from Webster University as well as both an associate degree and a bachelor’s in management studies from UMUC, said she once took an exam while deployed in an Iraqi combat zone using a hospital bed as her table, with an army surgeon as proctor. She spoke with emotion about returning from deployment in 2005 to find her UMUC diploma among the enormous pile of mail waiting for her.
“At that moment, filled with excitement, with tears running down my face, I said ‘I did it!’ I had accomplished the mission I’d started more than 13 years earlier … and had proof to show for it.”
She said her mother and her great-aunt and grandmother, who were both teachers, instilled in her the importance of education. Her 72-year-old mother, who had never been able to attend college, is now working on a degree. Moving forward, Thorpe-Noel said she hoped graduates would remember those who supported and encouraged them on their education journey.
“I believe we would all agree that no one achieves success alone. Pay them back by paying it forward to someone else. Empower, educate, enable and engage others. Be an example for them,” she said, before sharing one last self-revelation.
Due to the timing of her military assignments, moves and deployments, she had never been able to attend any of her own commencements, had never crossed the stage to receive her diplomas.
“That has always bothered me. But today, standing on this stage addressing this graduating class, I feel like I’m graduating with you in the [grandest] fashion,” Thorpe-Noel said.
On Saturday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin from Maryland’s 8th District said that when he asked for advice about what to say in a commencement speech, a college president he knows told him not to worry because he couldn’t do worse than Kermit the Frog, who “delivered” the commencement keynote at Southampton College, Long Island, New York, in 1996.
So, for inspiration, he said he turned to a review of the literature. But after studying about a dozen commencement addresses late last week in preparation for his own, Raskin said he learned a lot more about what to leave out of his speech than what to put in it.
“One, I resolved not to say, ‘to thine own self be true.’ Two, I would not tell you that the future is yours or follow your dreams. And, three, I would not go over my allotted time, which is one hour and 47 minutes!”
He said he vowed instead to give graduates one big compliment, a little scare, and a good dose of hope before they rode off with their families, their new degrees, and their skills, ambitions, and dreams.
Raskin told UMUC graduates that they are “praiseworthy” twice over because they not only chose to attend college when their professional and family responsibilities and life obligations made it extremely difficult to do so but also because they attended college with intention. “You really went to college. You studied. You learned and you processed. You grew. College was not wasted on you.”
The congressman, who earned a reputation for coalition building as a three-term member of the Maryland State Senate before being elected to the U.S. House, has taught constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law for more than 25 years. So, it’s fitting that the bulk of his speech—his “little scare and good dose of hope—focused in large part on the need to “defend democracy together and reclaim the constitutional machinery of government” to save ourselves from the dangers that threaten our way of life … our very existence.
“There is triumph and transcendence in the journey you have traveled. In your accomplishments we can glimpse our most ardent hopes for what humanity might become,” Raskin said. “You have it within your powers, and your education, and your gifts to go out and do very great good in the world. So, go do it. And God speed to the Class of 2019.”
Frank Islam came to the U.S. from India at the age of 15 to pursue a degree from the University of Colorado in what was then the emerging field of computer science. On Sunday afternoon May 19, the tech entrepreneur, who launched his start-up Q-S-S Group in1994 with $45,000 and one employee—and sold it 13 years later when it had revenues of $300 million and a staff of 3,000—told graduates, “as I look out at you I see the American dream. I see the future of America. I see the future of the world.”
Islam, honored in 2013 as Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year, was appointed by President Barak Obama to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts board of trustees and, today, donates his time and talent to numerous educational and cultural organizations. “My journey was not a straight line. Indeed, there were numerous twists and turns,” he said and encouraged graduates to remember that the word commencement does not just mean the ceremony in which their academic degrees were conferred. It also means a beginning.
“In the coming years you will write new chapters for the American story,” he said, “I know how much you have done already. Because of your new degrees, I am confident that you are prepared and equipped to accomplish even more.”
Citing a global rise of dictatorships and decline of democracy, Islam asserted that now more than ever, the world needs the pro-active and positive involvement of American citizens and leaders and called on graduates to do what they can to make this country and the world a better place.
Be informed. Get all the facts, he urged graduates. He asked that graduates be independent and exercise their own judgment. And, he said, graduates should be involved by engaging on issues of importance to them.
“This is an important request because a nation is the sum of its citizens. How we assemble ourselves and what we accomplish together defines the fabric, psyche and soul of the country,” Islam said, adding, that he is positive about the fabric, psyche and soul of America.
“I am positive about the future of the American dream, America and the world … because of what I see in you,” he said.
Commencement Student Speakers
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.
Saturday morning; When she thought about what to say that would resonate with so many different speakers, Jacqueline Bullard, Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies, said she decided to focus on the thing she believes everyone needs to have in order to succeed in life. “Motivation! For me, a random ah-ha moment came along just in the nick of time.”
After high school, she landed her first full-time job working in the Student Life office of a New York City university, But the opportunity to be the first in her family to earn a degree was not enough to motivate her to enroll and complete the necessary coursework, Bullard said.
“In fact, imagine someone spending two decades working at two universities where classes can be taken at a huge discount—and still not earning a degree. That person was me!”
She chewed on that a lot and it bothered her, she said. Bullard’s ah-ha moment came when her daughter seemed to reject the idea of college. “ ‘But mom, you don’t have a degree.’ I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember what I did. That summer I enrolled in my first class at UMUC,” Bullard said.
She wondered, haven’t we all overcome obstacles in life and discovered inner fortitude we didn’t realize we had? “Hold on to those feelings. Harness them. Nurture them. Use them to propel you even further,” Bullard said.
Saturday afternoon: Disabled Air Force veteran Natalie Madison-Rascoe, Bachelor of Science in Psychology, said the road to graduation was a tough one for her. “I would wonder, how can I complete my classes when I have chronic pain, anxiety, and depression?”
What helped her through was the support of her husband, the fact that UMUC “truly cares for and supports military members and their families,” and fundamental life lessons she said her mother taught her.
First, her mother said, you will always have to work. Choose the job you want to do and do it well. And completing a college degree means newfound choices, she said. “Now we have more options of where we work—and with whom.”
Remember, too, you should love “like your bills are paid, your house is clean, and you don’t have a care in the world.” Finally, her mother told her to get her education because no one can take that away from you.
“I was thinking about our class, and I need you to know that you are all diamonds. A diamond starts out as a rock placed under enormous pressure and high temperatures.” Madison-Rascoe told fellow graduates.
As she sees it, she and her academic colleagues all began their UMUC journey in the rough. They withstood the heat and life’s pressures that tested them along the way. And with every course completed, they became more polished.
Now, they are poised to shine on. “Remember, you don’t have to follow if you have the passion and knowledge to lead,” she said.
Sunday afternoon ceremony:
In 2017, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Cara Novas, Master of Science in Cybersecurity, was awarded a UMUC Pillars of Strength Scholarship to pursue her graduate degree. She was selected for the special program, made possible through the generosity of the Blewitt Foundation, because of her service as a volunteer caregiver for an injured and wounded Marine, Junior Novas—who was, at first, an acquaintance, then friend, and now her husband.
“Walking with Junior on the road to recovery from his wound was at times deeply devastating; at times profoundly joyous; and always indescribably humbling,” said Novas, adding that she became a Marine because, given their journey together, she believed she would be uniquely able to lead Marines, to mold young recruits, to understand their struggles, and to celebrate their triumphs.
The same pursuit of personal betterment led her to seek out a degree at UMUC, she said, and urged fellow graduates to maintain the focus, commitment, and drive that they brought to their studies at UMUC.
“Finishing your degree is in no way an end, but a beginning. And the same spirit of curiosity and bravery that led you to pursue your degree will be vital as you look to apply everything you’ve learned going forward,” said Novas, who is eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child.
“We have a tremendous opportunity before us to give back, to make an impact, and to change the world. To do so, we must keep within us this thirst to constantly improve and to push our limits.”
Nursing Pinning Marks a UMUC Commencement First
On Wednesday, May 15, UMUC held its inaugural convocation for graduates of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, which launched in 2013 with 63 students. The Class of 2019 comprises more than 160 graduates. More than 1,000 students are enrolled in the program. Read “Another UMUC First—Pinning Ceremony Honors Bachelor’s in Nursing Graduates” for more information about the UMUC Bachelor of Science in Nursing Convocation.
Commencement Also Marks a Last … the Final Graduate Ever to Walk Across the Stage to a UMUC Diploma
On Sunday, May 19, Anthony Darnell Washington traversed the Xfinity Center stage to receive his Associate of Arts degree and strolled right into history. He became the last-ever student to receive a degree from University of Maryland University College.
After the university’s name officially changes to University of Maryland Global Campus, effective July 1, graduating students henceforth will receive their diplomas under the new university moniker. The university’s quality academics, course delivery, mission and commitment to students remain the same. The name change was undertaken to better reflect the university’s global reach, according to UMUC President Javier Miyares.
UMUC Doctoral Commencement 2019
Graduates included 45 Doctor of Management candidates who were hooded and had degrees conferred in a separate ceremony held Thursday evening, May 16, at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. Those graduating completed their degree requirements during the summer and fall of 2018 and spring 2019.
Bryan Booth, vice dean of the Doctoral Programs in the Graduate School, told graduates that their degrees represented the start of a new life journey.
“As you begin, allow some time to reflect … to appreciate your accomplishment … and to be thankful of those who supported you along the way,” he said.
Frost is the youngest of nine, raised by a single mother. Booth’s introduction—as a man who had lived a full life as a U.S. Marine, a high school teacher, a corporate owner, devoted son, loving husband and dad, and always a seeker of wisdom—revealed nothing of Frost’s hard-scrabble struggle to get there.
“My mother, despite having only a 7th-grade education, was infinitely wise, something I didn’t realize until later in life,” he said. “She told me that in life, nothing is free. You will have to work and struggle for everything.”
And for a long time, he did. He had a learning disability that went undiagnosed until he was in his 20s and so did poorly in school and lacked the self-esteem to turn things around. When he was told “college isn’t for everybody,” his mother co-signed for him to join the Marines as he was too young to sign on his own.
There he learned to constantly move forward, even when everyone else is retreating. “The Marine Corps taught me that every obstacle is just another opportunity for greatness, but as soon as you clear that obstacle there will be another one.”
They also taught him that a warrior’s greatest weapon is the mind, the ability to think, because if you can think, if you can reason, you have options, Frost said.
He had always wanted to teach and his wife—he met her in the Marines—encouraged him to go for it. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” said Frost citing Walt Disney. “At the age of 37, I completed my bachelor’s degree and started teaching high school.”
Do not let your environment hold you back from striving to reach your goals and dreams, he told graduates. During the last seven years while continuously deployed in combat zones he earned a Master of Science degree, two graduate certificates, and completed his doctoral program—all from UMUC.
“They say that the strongest metal is forged in the hottest fire. Many years ago, I revised that into my own motto: ‘Out of adversity is forged the metal of character.’” Frost said.
Each year UMUC selects several graduating students to sing the National Anthem and the university’s Alma Mater. Singers for UMUC stateside commencement 2019 were:
- Cherita Johnson, a 2018 graduate of UMUC’s Master of Science in Healthcare Administration program sang at the UMUC Nursing Convocation 2019, May 15
- Maurice Cobb, a 2019 UMUC graduate sang at both the UMUC Doctoral Commencement 2019, May 16, and the Saturday morning, May 18, UMUC Stateside Commencement 2019
- Ijiiola Elesinmogun, a 2019 graduate sang at both the Saturday afternoon, May 18, and Sunday afternoon, May 19, UMUC Stateside Commencement 2019
UMUC also holds commencement ceremonies for military personnel and their dependents at installations around the world. Commencement 2019 ceremonies took place in Tokyo on April 13; on Okinawa, April 20; in South Korea on April 27; in Europe on May 4; and on Guam, May 11.
Worldwide graduates represent all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, and 26 countries and territories.
Facts about the UMUC Class of 2019:
- Number of graduates worldwide: 13,242
- Average age of graduates: 36
- Oldest graduate: 77 years old
- Youngest graduate: 18 years old
Watch Complete Commencement Ceremonies and Individual Speeches:
UMUC Commencement: Doctoral Ceremony – May 16, 2019
UMUC Commencement: Saturday Morning Ceremony – May 18, 2019
- Keynote: Lynice D. Thorpe-Noel ’01 & ’05
- Student Speaker: Jacqueline S. Bullard ’18
UMUC Commencement: Saturday Afternoon Ceremony – May 18, 2019
- Keynote: Rep. Jamie Raskin
- Student Speaker: Natalie Odessa Madison-Rascoe ’19
UMUC Commencement: Sunday Afternoon Ceremony – May 19, 2019
- Keynote: Frank F. Islam
- Student Speaker: Cara L. Novas ’19
Check out messages, photos and stories from UMUC graduates on Facebook and follow the conversation on Twitter using #UMUCGrad.
For information about UMUC commencement, please visit www.umuc.edu/commencement