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As soon as Dr. Jennifer Luddy received her diploma in the mail, she confided to degree candidates convened for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) 2018 Doctoral Commencement, held May 10 at the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, “My husband framed it, and immediately I asked: ‘Can I get another one?’”

Luddy, a fall 2017 graduate of UMUC’s Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration program and a featured speaker at this year’s commencement, added that she isn’t sure whether she will ever pursue another doctorate.

“But truly there is no greater tribute to this institution, this program and its faculty, than the fact that it produces learners who just can’t stop learning,” she said.

The ceremony heralded the achievements of the university’s 56 newest Doctor of Management (DM) degree holders. UMUC introduced its scholar-practitioner based Doctor of Management program in 2000 and Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration in 2009, both designed for experienced professionals who work full-time and want to advance their scholarship and practical learning.

Many of UMUC’s doctoral candidates already hold leadership roles in business, government or higher education prior to earning a DM degree, but UMUC President Javier Miyares told graduates that by virtue of obtaining a doctorate, their influence “will only increase.”

The doctoral commencement also celebrated the time, effort, grit and determination required for candidates to earn a terminal degree and become members of an exclusive community of scholar-practitioners.

“You have worked tremendously hard to get to this point—an attainment reached by less than 3 percent of the population,” said Dr. Kathryn Klose, vice provost and dean of UMUC’s Graduate School in offering her congratulations.

Program Chair Leslie Dinauer reflected on the rigors of obtaining a Doctor of Management. “We often talk about the ‘journey’. Now you understand this intellectually, you understand this emotionally and you understand this viscerally.”

A first-generation college graduate, Luddy said her love of learning was inspired by her father—a truck driver and janitor who never earned a high school degree but ended every day by reading “dense and difficult” books on history, literature and other subjects—and agreed that pursuing a degree. . .

any degree is hard.

“It is hard even if everything goes well.  And, often, it doesn’t,” she said.  In her case, her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer during the last year of Luddy’s program. Now “happy and healthy,” he was able to witness his wife’s achievement in person.

The “shock” of his diagnosis and the ensuing experience of getting him well, attending to the needs of her family and working while continuing in the program was balanced, Luddy said, by what she described as an abundance of “goodness.”

It was “the hope of successful treatment; the outstanding support of friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and perfect strangers who helped out in so many practical ways,” that kept her family going and made it possible for her to complete her doctoral program, she said.

And though she would never wish the experience on others she said she would never give up what she learned from it. As a community college dean of research and planning committed to open access and student success, she rarely had had the privilege to work directly with students, Luddy said.

“I suddenly looked at my work through a new lens.  My family had everything: family, friends, and resources. Many students who attend community colleges, in contrast, are not that fortunate.

“Throughout this experience, I considered what institutions can do to support and guide students through both the everyday and extraordinary challenges of life.”

Luddy, who wrote her dissertation on the relationship between ritual and students’ success in community college, said that even small events and everyday interactions can inspire and sustain us.

“That is the power of ritual . . .  and I wish that we, as a society, would recognize and embrace that power in more contexts.”

Dr. Luddy is currently a research fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, School of Public Health, evaluating the outcomes of two grants focused on suicide prevention and intervention.

Watch a replay of University of Maryland University College 2018 Doctoral Commencement here.