Whether active-duty military, veteran or civilian, all University of Maryland University College (UMUC) graduates have the brass required to make their dream of a higher education come true, said Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr., president of the Maryland Senate and keynote speaker for the first of three separate UMUC commencement ceremonies held on Saturday and Sunday May 12 and 13 at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland.
Approximately 3,000 stateside graduates crossed the stage Mother’s Day weekend to receive their master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees. In all, the UMUC Class of 2018 comprised an estimated 12,300 graduates worldwide—most balancing their studies with a job and in many cases military service and family life as well.
Graduates included 56 doctoral candidates who were hooded and had degrees conferred in a separate ceremony held Thursday evening, May 10, at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. See the UMUC Global Media Center post “56 New Doctors of Management Join the Ranks of the Less-Than-3 Percent,” to learn more about the doctoral commencement.
“As adult learners, you have faced unique challenges in your journey. Most of you have not had the luxury of being able to study throughout the day and to take your weekends off,” said Alan Drimmer, the university’s senior vice president and chief academic officer who was officiating at his first series of UMUC commencements since assuming his post in March.
“It has not been an easy road,” Drimmer added, noting that to make time for their studies, UMUC graduates had had to take time away from family and other responsibilities.
“On this day, you don’t need role models. Today you are the role models for us and for everyone in this arena,” he said.
Broadcast Journalist Maureen Bunyan, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Maryland Senate President Mike Miller were on hand during the weekend to deliver motivational keynote addresses inspiring graduates to use their hard-earned degrees to create positive change and support others in their effort to realize their higher education goals.
On Saturday morning, May 12, Miller delivered a speech full of humor and anecdotes about his long-term support for the broad access to higher education provided by UMUC that has changed so many lives in positive ways.
“I consider myself a godfather of University of Maryland University College,” said Miller, who, as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates in 1970, voted to make UMUC—then a division of the University of Maryland—a separate entity. He said he did so because he agreed that UMUC had outgrown College Park. “In fact, it had outgrown any college in the system. . . . This is a worldwide university!”
Miller told graduates that a commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps once told him he owed his success to UMUC. “[UMUC] It’s for everybody. And that’s the legacy of University of Maryland University College,” Miller said.
“It’s the great equalizer. it’s accessible. it’s affordable, and it lets everyone have the possibility of obtaining the American dream.”
Watch President Miller's keynote address.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh began her remarks by revealing a bit of the conversation she’d had with Class of 2018 member Christine Veney, who was selected to sing the National Anthem at the Saturday afternoon ceremony.
Veney had confided to the mayor that she’d spent 17 years in pursuit of her degree.
“She told me, ‘you know, my child is getting ready to graduate from high school and I needed to step it up before they [my children] get theirs.”
Since its inception, Pugh said, UMUC has improved the lives of adult learners for whom a traditional approach to higher education made earning a college degree impractical or impossible, then spoke to the comprehensive nature of the university’s student body.
“I believe the youngest graduating today is 17 …or 18. The oldest is 81. The average age is 33,” Pugh said, noting that 37 percent of UMUC’s Class of 2018 graduates are first-generation college students.
“And here’s what’s really challenging: 74 percent of you work full time, 48 percent of you have children, 60 percent of you worldwide are our military-affiliate student population, 46 percent of the total enrollment are minority students. That’s about being inclusive and diverse.”
Though UMUC’s graduates are “nontraditional,” Pugh said, they should keep top-of-mind as they exit the arena with diplomas in hand that they are now prepared with the knowledge and skills—and have a responsibility—to engage in changing our complex world for the better.
“You leave here today equipped to raise expectations and help provide solutions,” she said. “I ask you to seek challenges, to give hope . . . and provide viable options for our communities to succeed.
“Bring it! The world now awaits your contribution. Be the change you want to see.”
Watch Mayor Pugh's keynote address.
Sunday afternoon speaker Maureen Bunyan, a broadcast journalist and former WJLA-TV news anchor in Washington, D.C., related in a highly personal way to the passion for learning and perseverance that propels UMUC graduates to complete their degrees despite their many challenges.
Her parents, she said, were born and raised in Guyana, South America, at a time when that country was part of the British Empire. Under the Colonial British education system, she added, a comprehensive examination that was administered once each year to all 13-year-old students determined whether they would be allowed to continue their formal education.
“If they failed, or for any reason could not take the exam, their formal education was over. No do-overs. No make-ups.”
Unfortunately, Bunyan’s father, Arthur, “a smart young man who would easily have passed that examination” missed his chance to take the test because, “in 1926 when he was 13 . . . he was sick with malaria,” a disease that left him physically weak and underweight, but unbroken.
“Arthur decided at age 13 that he would not let the system interfere with his pursuit of knowledge, and he began that pursuit by using what we now call distance learning,” Bunyan said.
In the 30s and 40s, distance education meant correspondence courses, and correspondence courses meant they took place by mail, Bunyan explained. In an isolated place like Guyana, that also meant correspondence came and went by boat, and the schedule of those comings and goings was, at best, irregular, she added. Applying for courses, receiving materials, turning in assignments, having homework graded and returned was an arduous process—each step taking months to complete.
But Arthur persisted. And in 1937, the courses he completed in electricity and mathematics prepared him to land a job on Aruba as an electrical draftsman with the Standard Oil Company, where he continued to take correspondence courses in electronics, Bunyan said.
“He learned how to build shortwave radio receivers and other electrical devices.” After becoming one of the first on Aruba to buy a car, he took correspondence courses in auto mechanics and maintenance. He even took courses in bodybuilding and physical fitness from the Charles Atlas Company to repair the damage malaria had left behind, Bunyan said.
And when he moved the family to the U.S. in the 1950s, Arthur “went to work immediately and immediately enrolled in school.” He was accepted into a bachelor’s degree program in electrical engineering because of his lifelong learning and, over the years, he also earned master’s degrees in electrical engineering and education, she said. To earn one of those degrees, he commuted a total of 400 miles every week between home and school for two years, working and teaching all the while.
“By the time he was in his mid-60s, he had completed all the coursework for his doctorate in electrical engineering,” but his deteriorating vision kept him from finishing his “thesis” and getting his degree Bunyan said.
Among other lessons from her father, she said she learned that education is precious; that it helps us to understand both our strengths and our frailties; that the love of education, the need to learn and the desire to teach are basic to human nature. And she wondered, what if her father had let the British Colonial system and his own poor health stop him from pursuing an education?
“What if he had not taught me to respect knowledge and those who share it? What if he had not had the desire and the drive to achieve?
“I suspect that you have the same drive, curiosity and desire to achieve that my father did,” she told graduates, adding that though the investment they made in their education had come with many sacrifices, it would also reap many rewards.
“You are giving to your families, friends and neighbors precious lessons in how to seize opportunities, to face obstacles, to pursue goals—and to reach them,” she said and revealed that she was speaking on the 22nd anniversary of her father’s death.
“If he were here in front of you all, he would have recognized himself in all of you. And he would have been as proud to be here with you as I am today.”
Watch Maureen Bunyan's keynote address.
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 ceremony: Rhonda Singletary, Bachelor of Science and first-generation college student, who said her son will continue the new family tradition by receiving his degree in next year’s class of UMUC graduates, told all gathered that “teamwork makes the dream work.”
“We have studied in coffee shops, public libraries, airports . . . random parking lots, waiting rooms, and of course, in the comfort of our pajamas on our sofas. But in all those places and more, UMUC equipped us . . . inspired us . . . motivated us . . . encouraged us . . . made the world a better place by investing in us.” Watch Singletary's speech.
Saturday afternoon ceremony: Akia Martin spoke about the 13-year journey leading to her Bachelor of Science degree said a favorite quote by Napoleon Hill sustains her when she feels discouraged. “It states, ‘every adversity, every failure, and Every Heartache carries with it a seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.’”
Martin said she interprets this to mean that lessons learned from out failures “prepare us for something better . . . will make us better the next time around.”
She said she realized long ago that she based many of her choices on what others thought was best.
“My journey has taught me to listen, take what is applicable, and use it, as a blueprint in making my own decisions. Whatever you decide, be confident and happy with your decision because in the end, you have to live with it, no one else.” Watch Martin's speech.
Sunday afternoon ceremony: Timothy French, Associate of Arts degree began his speech with a piece of advice from his father and ended with thoughts that mirrored his father’s refrain.
“’Son,” he told me, “’be mindful of your name. Whatever job you do, you leave your name on it.’
“So, I ask you, where is your name now? [It] grew with every subject you learned, every step you took . . . every sacrifice you made. [It] finished a marathon and said ‘let’s go again.’. . . Be proud of your name because . . . the example you set is one that your children will be proud of, and one that your families will remember forever.” Watch French's speech.
Each year UMUC selects several graduating students to sing the National Anthem and the university’s Alma Mater. Singers for UMUC stateside commencement 2018 were:
Isabell Pollard, who sang at the doctoral, Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon ceremonies; Christine Veney, who sang on Saturday afternoon.
UMUC also holds commencement ceremonies for military personnel and their dependents at installations around the world. Global ceremonies this year were:
- Tokyo, April 7
- Okinawa, April 14
- South Korea, April 21
- Europe, April 28
- Guam, May 12
Read the Global Media Center feature “A Trio of Grads from Sicily Redefine Family Togetherness” and get complete UMUC Europe Commencement coverage here.
Watch the WJLA-TV story about a mother and daughter, both veterans, who graduated on the same day.
For more information about UMUC’s 2018 stateside commencements visit umuc.edu/commencement and see these Global Media Center posts:
Watch the replay of UMUC stateside commencement ceremonies at Facebook.com/umuc:
The May 10 Doctoral Commencement
The May 12 ceremonies:
Saturday, 9 a.m. (Watch Here)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (Watch Here)
The May 13 ceremony:
Sunday, 3:30 p.m. (Watch Here)