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Grad Walk: Reflections from Our Winter 2022 Graduates

Philip D. Adams
By Philip D. Adams

In 2022, University of Maryland Global Campus began holding a new style of commencement exercises called Grad Walk. Like other aspects of UMGC's approach to education, Grad Walk is a more flexible, student-driven format. While at Grad Walk, we caught up with several graduates who shared their student experiences at UMGC. 

“Grad Walk has been quite an experience,” said Morris Leroy Smith, a customs and border protection officer for the Department of Homeland Security, who came all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, to receive his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “I wouldn't miss this opportunity to graduate, and I'm grateful to finally be here. I started transferring in 2018 and finally finished, what, three days ago? I’ve been waiting for this for seven years!”

Lala Reynolds of Manassas Park, Virginia, was at Grad Walk to celebrate earning her bachelor's in criminal justice.

“We had so much fun this week, just really celebrating because it took a tribe to get me where I am,” she said.

Reynolds was disappointed her 21-year-old son couldn’t join her for the celebration but shared the encouragement he gave her.

“He said, 'Mom, how many people in your family have earned a bachelor's degree?' I said, 'No one.' And he said, 'Smile. Be happy and hold your head high. I love you, and good luck.’"

Lucreatia Perry, who also graduated with a degree in criminal justice and was selected as a social media ambassador for UMGC to help showcase the event shared in the excitement.

“Being a social media ambassador has been fun,” said Perry, a mother of four. “Taking pictures and videos and creating different content . . . Hopefully, it inspires someone else to keep going like I did. I just wanted to be an inspiration, not just for my children, but my community, because a lot of us don't have role models to show us how to be a college grad or that it's attainable.”

The Value of a UMGC Education

Several graduates shared what they value most about earning their degrees at UMGC.

Lonetta Ray from Washington, DC, who graduated with a master’s in healthcare administration, was thrilled to see the real-world applications of what she learned in class.

"In class, you actually talk about the things that you're experiencing at work and ways that you can apply these things and make them better,” Ray said. “So, not only did I get to go to school, I got to apply the knowledge right then and there. It's just been amazing."

For Washington, DC, resident Kevin Finkelstein, the flexibility of an online degree program at UMGC was key.

"Honestly, this was one of the easiest processes I've ever had, in terms of learning on my own schedule to get this degree, which was incredibly important to me,” Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein graduated summa cum laude with a BS in history and a minor in philosophy. While he took advantage of the university’s flexible transfer credit policies, he was happy to complete his coursework at UMGC.

“I had some credits transfer, but frankly, most of the work that I did for my degree was done here at UMGC,” he said, “and I wouldn't trade that for anything.”

Rickelle Gordon, a marketing and engagement manager for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology from Oxon Hill, MD, found value in setting an example for others.

“I wanted to prove to people that someone like me—the untraditional student, the black single mom—could actually be there," said Gordon, who earned her BS in communication studies. “A lot of people don't realize that they can do these things until they see it. So, representation matters. And to be a part of the representation of the University of Maryland Global Campus as the untraditional student, it was an honor.”  

Balancing School with Work and Family

Graduates also reflected on the challenges they faced earning their degrees while balancing other commitments like work and family obligations.

“Balancing work and school was a bit challenging,” said Elizabeth Ngwafor of Cameroon, West Africa, who graduated with a master's in cybersecurity technology, “but the way the classes were set up and the fact that I could do it online in the comfort of my home was a good thing. With family, kids, being a mom, I was able to manage it all because I could set up my time, schedule to do my work at a particular time, attend to my kids, and attend to work—all at the same time.”

Jessica Francois of Boston, Massachusetts, earned her BA in graphic communication. She said she was able to find balance by setting a firm schedule for work, school, and rest.

“UMGC really taught me how to be strategic in time management, time placement, and just setting boundaries,” she said.

Several graduates also shared how their success coaches helped keep them on the path to graduation.  

“My success coaches checked in with me constantly,” said Gordon. “They would be like, ‘Is there anything that we can do to be a resource for you?’ They always reached out to me, and I'm forever appreciative of that.”

Michael Zotoo, originally from Ghana, West Africa, said his success coach provided critical guidance to ensure the courses he selected aligned with his goals as closely as possible.

“The success coaches were very helpful because they put me on a path where every class that I took meant something to me, not just meeting a requirement,” said Zotoo, who earned a BS in criminal justice.

And, for Suitland, Maryland resident Ilecia Williams-Cherry, encouragement from a success coach helped push her to a 4.0 GPA.

“When I started at UMGC, my plan wasn't to be a 4.0 student, but the success coach helped me to do that, along with my instructors,” Cherry said. “I'm able to graduate today as summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA because of all of the help and assistance I got from the success coaches, the tutors, and my instructors . . . I came in with the plan that I had in mind, but they allowed me to finish with a plan that was even bigger than what I expected out of myself.”

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