We’re No. 1! UMGC Holds Its First-Ever Commencement

More than 7000 Students Worldwide Become the First to Earn Degrees Under the UMGC Name

University of Maryland Global Campus celebrated its first-ever class of graduates under its new name with two separate commencement ceremonies at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland, on Saturday, Dec. 14. University of Maryland University College became University of Maryland Global Campus on July 1.

Approximately 2,000 of the 7,127 graduates worldwide walked the stage at Winter Commencement 2019 to receive their associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. In all, this class of graduates represented the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 23 countries and territories.

 “I speak for everyone at the university when I say that it has been our honor to help you in the pursuit of your goals and your dreams,” said UMGC President Javier Miyares in his opening remarks before paying special tribute to the active-duty members of the U.S. military and veterans among those in the audience earning their degrees.

 Miyares also told graduates that 2019 was a year of two exciting achievements for UMGC—its 70th anniversary of educating U.S. troops and their families in Europe heralding the beginning of the university’s global presence, and the official name change to University of Maryland Global Campus that better reflects the university’s status as a respected state university with a global reach.

“Yet today,” he said, “You represent our greatest achievement. And we are so proud to recognize and celebrate your success.”

William Wood, a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, the governing body for UMGC and other public universities within the State of Maryland, spoke at both the morning and afternoon ceremonies.

“I am delighted to join you as we celebrate the first-ever commencement of this venerable institution now known as University of Maryland Global Campus!”

Wood, who is a parent to two UMGC graduates and whose father attended UMGC while serving in the U.S. Army in Frankfort, Germany, in the 1950s, told graduates that they had earned their degrees from one of the most dynamic institutions of higher education in the world.

“Today you become an enduring part of that proud and impressive legacy,” he said.

COMMENCEMENT KEYNOTES
Social entrepreneur and Baltimore native Wes Moore delivered the Saturday morning keynote address—following a brief ceremony at the podium when UMGC President Miyares presented him with the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service.

The decorated U.S. Army combat veteran and CEO of Robin Hood, the largest poverty-fighting organization in New York City, was honored, Miyares said, for serving “our nation with distinction” and, as a champion in the fight against poverty, improving the “lives of countless Americans in our underserved communities. And your work goes on . . . serving as a model for our nation.”

Moore said that the sea of graduates seated before him represented not only a celebration of extremely hard work and dedication, but also a larger societal accomplishment—a celebration of how education will be not just a pathway, but the pathway to winning the fight against poverty.

He has some personal experience in that regard.  Education changed the trajectory of his own life for the good, he said.

He grew up in Baltimore and in the Bronx, where he was raised by a single mother . . . and faced challenges.

“I was sent to military school. I had some issues when I was younger.”

It was the commandant of cadets at Valley Forge Military College, a colonel and three-time Vietnam veteran, who helped him find his footing.  “That dude was as tough as nails. But he was there, and he loved us, and we loved him back.”

One Sunday night the commandant called the corps of cadets together to deliver what they would soon learn was his farewell address. He told them he was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t fight it from the school anymore and that he had to leave. That was the last time they saw him.

But the colonel told them something that night that Moore said will stick with him for all time. “He said: ‘When it’s time for you to leave this school . . . to leave your job . . . to leave your neighborhood . . . to leave this planet . . . make sure that it mattered that you were ever even here.”

Moore graduated from military school with honors and went on to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, then earned a Master of Letters degree in International Relations from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Even so, he said he looked upon his early life experiences and struggles as deficiencies that left him with feelings of unworthiness. For the longest time he harbored nagging doubts that he truly measured up to his academic and professional peers.

“It’s this idea that everywhere you go, you feel like an imposter. You’re just waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘What are you doing here?’”

Eventually, Moore said he came to understand something “unbelievably powerful” that he’s certain UMGC graduates already know because they hadn’t chosen an easy path—college or military service, raising a family, working a job. They had chosen a tougher road: college and all that.

And every time they chose to keep going when life gave them a reason to quit—when they had “multiple reasons and could have and people would have actually understood”—they persisted. They prevailed. And that fortified their preparation and their armor, Moore said.

And that is their power, he added. “What it means is this: You are more prepared and more ready for the battles of tomorrow than anybody else. It means you know . . . there is never anything else again that should make you flinch.”

Moore urged graduates to use their power, their focus, to make a mark.

“Take them and conquer every battle here on out with the same level of determination and vigilance and courage that you used in taking this one on,”
he said.

“Everything you are is your empowerment. You are in no room because of someone’s kindness . . . someone’s social experiment . . . because someone wants to sprinkle diversity into a room,” Moore said. “You are in that room because you belong there and because that room would be incomplete if you were not.”

  • See Wes Moore’s keynote address HERE.

On Saturday afternoon, Maryland State Senator Paul G. Pinsky told graduates that when asked in a recent survey whether ignorance or apathy is a bigger problem, one respondent answered, “I don’t know, and I don’t care!”

His audience appreciated the joke. By embracing what some consider a nontraditional education path, Pinsky said UMGC students show that they plot their own course, develop their own plan and, most of all, have the determination and commitment to follow through.

Pinsky, a leader in shaping most major state education policies in Maryland for the last decade, led the legislative effort in the Maryland Senate that changed the name UMUC to University of Maryland Global Campus.

“What you have learned, what you have gained in knowledge and, of course, achieving this degree . . . none of it can be taken away from you. It’s yours to do with as you may,” he said.

He suggested that now the important consideration for graduates is where a university degree takes them from here.  “Will it lead to furthering your skills, advancement of your career?”

Perhaps the degree is just the beginning of a lifelong quest for even more knowledge, even more learning. And while Pinsky said he would be the last person to deter students from pursuing additional college degrees, he reminded them that advancing one’s knowledge doesn’t have to take place in a university setting.

“Now at this point, I’m sure President Miyares is probably thinking, ‘Why did we invite this guy,’” said Pinsky, citing examples of how extracurricular education had added value throughout his own life.

He said he didn’t do especially well in his undergraduate studies. “My grades were not so hot in economics.”

But on his own, after graduation, because he wanted a better understanding of how the economy worked—and why it wasn’t working equally for all—he read books of his own choosing. And years later, as a legislator, he wanted to learn more about other topics . . . the environment, money in politics, taxation . . . “I began to research, for example, how money influenced and shaped politics but more importantly what solutions were out there to reverse that course.”

The quest for learning outside the classroom extends beyond self-directed academic investigation to interpersonal interaction as well. Referencing a recent New York Times Op-Ed by columnist Nicholas Kristof, Pinsky offered two recommendations to graduates.

He advised them to connect to a cause greater than themselves. Rather than following the familiar dictum—we spend the first third of our lives studying, the second third making money, and the last third giving back—start giving back now.

“Find a cause. Advocate for the voiceless. Work for your church, synagogue or mosque. Work on behalf of social and economic justice. I can tell you it will be satisfying and provides a good moral balance to the rest of your life,” Pinsky said.

And, he told students, escape your comfort zone. Though Pinsky said that to some extent UMGC students have already done so by taking on college studies while juggling a full slate of adult responsibilities, he urged them to seek out people and places that they are not already familiar with.

Explore another culture. Learn about people on other continents who Pinsky said have a much broader world view than people from the United States. “The greater our knowledge base and the greater [number of] lenses we can use to see, the better informed we are,” he said, adding that one needn’t travel abroad to seek new cultural experiences. We can find them in our own communities.

Pinsky said he would not conclude his speech with the old refrain that the world is “your oyster” and anything is possible, though he agreed many exciting possibilities lay ahead for graduates. Also, many obstacles remain.

“But if there is one group of people who understand those challenges both personal and societal, it’s you. Not only are you better prepared for these challenges, you have shown you have the vision, the fortitude and the commitment to be successful.”

  • See Senator Pinsky’s keynote address HERE.

 

STUDENT SPEAKERS
Each year, the university selects graduating students, who represent the special attributes of the graduating class, to deliver commencement addresses to their fellow graduates.

Saturday morning speaker Kyna Ricks, master’s in management, began in part by sharing findings from a U.S. Department of Education study that she said speaks to the many financial and societal barriers that adult learners face. The data showed that 38% of adult learners leave their program in the first year. And of those who finish, only 31% do so in the same timeframe as their younger peers.

She told graduates, the fact that they are sitting at commencement is momentous and celebratory because it symbolizes the countless individual achievements and struggles that form the fabric of every graduate’s degree.

Two weeks before beginning her graduate studies, Ricks had learned that she was expecting her second child. She said that she would never forget her sense of accomplishment when, in summer 2017, she passed her first final exams and gave birth two weeks later—nor would she forget her self-doubt in fall 2017 when she returned from maternity leave and struggled to balance work with two graduate courses and night feedings with a colic-stricken infant.

“There were so many moments in my journey where I wanted to give up,” Ricks said.

But in reflecting along the way during her educational journey, she said she came to embrace the idea that she—like the data point in statistics that differs greatly from the average—was an outlier. Nothing about her experience at UMGC was typical.

“I never sat in a traditional classroom. My graduate experiences were marked by 3 a.m. online specials with my peers, many of whom lived in different towns or countries [than her own.] In-person coffee meet-ups were replaced by Skype sessions and Google chats.”

And during those chats, she said many of her peers could be seen cooking dinner, tending to their children—or sitting in an airport because they were traveling for their job.

She said she hoped her fellow graduates would come to recognize themselves as outliers and celebrate their uniqueness. “The literary giant Dr. Seuss said, ‘Today you are You. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is You-er than You.’ Now, go forth and set the world ablaze in a way only you can.”

  • See Kyna Ricks’ speech HERE.

Saturday afternoon speaker Gerald Williamson, master’s in management, described his higher-education journey as likely being longer than most.

It began, he explained, in 1957 when he was a high school graduate with no desire to go to college. “The fact that my grades were not too stellar, may have had something to do with that,” he said.

As he explained it, back then, you faced the military draft or you went to college and received a military deferment. So instead of college, Williamson, whose father was a career naval officer, opted to join the Naval Reserve.

And though he first dipped his toe into university waters after completing his tour of active duty, he said a poor attitude and ineffective study habits destined him to fail.

But about 57 years ago, when attending his brother’s college commencement in Indiana, he said he had an epiphany. “Watching that parade of graduates receiving their diplomas, I said to myself, ‘I can do that! There is no reason I can’t.’”

He returned to college, earned his bachelor’s degree and, for the better part of 40 years, ran his own heating and air conditioning business. For about the last dozen years, he’s taught HVAC classes full-time at Montgomery College—where working with students inspired him to earn his master’s. “I can do that,” he said.

 “We all have reached a milestone in our journey,” Williamson told graduates. “However, I have a different definition of milestone, which is a significant point in a project or event.”

The Romans, said Williamson, were great road builders who invented the milestone—a stone marker on the side of the road. It wasn’t meant to measure, as many believe, how far you have traveled. Rather, he said, it was meant to measure how far you have to go.

 “What is written on your milestone? Is it the next degree on your educational journey? A good job in your chosen field? Whatever it is, take it on with gusto, without fear—you will make it.

“As Nelson Mandella said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.’ We are all better armed now to take on the challenges ahead of us.”

STUDENT SINGERS
Each ceremony featured a student singer who performed The Star-Spangled Banner to open commencement.  Graduating students Judy Pirnia who sang in the morning and Cabrea Ching who performed in the afternoon also became the first-ever graduates to lead the singing of the UMGC Alma Mater.

 

WATCH THE COMPLETE CEREMONIES:

 

FACTS ABOUT THE UMGC SUMMER–FALL CLASS OF 2019:

  • Number of Graduates Worldwide: 7,127
  • Number of U.S. states and countries represented by UMGC graduates: All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 23 countries and territories
  • Youngest Graduate:  19 years old
  • Oldest Graduate: 80 years old
  • Average Age:  35 years old

 

 DEGREES AWARDED:

  •  Associate: 1,035
  • Bachelor’s: 3,790
  • Master’s: 2,306

UMGC will celebrate its stateside doctoral graduates, graduates of the winter 2020 term, and all spring candidates at our May 2020 commencements in College Park, Maryland. More than 3,000 of the nearly 6,000 eligible graduates nationwide are expected to attend.

UMGC also holds commencement ceremonies in the spring for military personnel and their dependents at installations around the world (Tokyo, Okinawa, South Korea, Europe, and Guam).

Check out messages, photos and stories from UMGC graduates on Facebook and follow the conversation on Twitter using #UMGCGrad.

For information about UMGC commencement, please visit http://www.umgc.edu/commencement

 

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