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“Long, but a worthwhile journey.” That’s how Jennifer Levine, who attended the combined commencement ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk on May 26, described her path to earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from University of Maryland University College (UMUC).

Levine joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and started taking classes at Camp Pendleton in California in 2005. She transferred to UMUC in 2009 after being assigned to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.

But life events picked up speed in 2011 when Levine left active duty. She moved to Virginia Beach, got married and had a daughter. Her husband is with a Naval Special Warfare unit and is home no more than 200 days a year.

Perseverance was the key to earning her degree, Levine said. “It feels great to be finished. I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad to finally move on.”

She credits Kristin Byerly, assistant director for Hampton Roads, for providing support and encouragement along the way.

The Navy College Office at Naval Station Norfolk held the ceremony for UMUC and eight other universities.  About 120 graduates received their diplomas, including 23 from UMUC that earned degrees ranging from the Associate of Arts in General Studies to the Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy.

David Johnson, a native of Stockton, California, and a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force for the last 13 years, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology―and a 4.0 grade point average.  As the student with the highest GPA, Johnson, who will be commissioning as an officer within the next year, was given the honor of addressing the graduates.

He encouraged those in attendance to persevere and never lose sight of their goals. He admitted that he was not motivated to attend college when he first enlisted in 2003. He also said he had taken a couple of courses before joining but didn’t take school seriously.

However, his outlook changed when his first supervisor in the service told him that the Air Force was really big on school. So, leading up to his first performance review, he said, he took a few College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams and earned 18 credits.

At the conclusion of the speech class her took with UMUC at Aviano Air Base in Italy in 2010, Johnson had earned the necessary credits to complete his associate’s degree with the Community College of the Air Force.

To keep taking classes, though, Johnson needed to declare a major. So while at Aviano, he enrolled at UMUC as a psychology major because, he said, he had always been interested in mentoring and in helping people with their problems.

Beginning in 2011, Johnson took two classes a year. He completed his degree in May.  “I’m not going to lie to you. It feels like a huge accomplishment,” Johnson said.

He acknowledged Diane Topping, a military education coordinator at Langley Air Force Base, for her dedication to his education and keeping him focused while he was on active-duty, including a seven-month deployment in 2014.

But he also said he is not finished with school. Johnson will start a master’s program with UMUC in the fall and, ultimately, would like to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology.