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Highlights from UMUC 2019 Commencement Ceremonies Showcase Appreciation for Military Service, Sacrifice, Achievement

 Beginning each April, a rolling series of University of Maryland University College commencement ceremonies take place on or near military installations in Asia, Europe and the U.S. to accommodate UMUC’s family of service members graduating worldwide.

It’s fitting that the university’s extended commencement season—culminating with stateside ceremonies at home in Maryland each May—overlaps with National Military Appreciation Month. Serving the military, UMUC President Javier Miyares often has said, is in the university’s DNA.

Worldwide, 60% of the UMUC Class of 2019 is in the military and its affiliates. And service members and veterans always figure prominently in the university’s commencement celebrations.

In his ceremonial opening remarks, Miyares noted that 2019 marks UMUC’s 70th anniversary of educating our U.S. troops and their families in Europe and offered a special salute to the active duty members of the U.S. military and veterans among those graduating.

Stand and be recognized. “Your service to our country has earned you the respect and admiration of a grateful nation,” UMUC President Javier Miyares said.

More than 1,100 of the 13,242 Class of 2019 UMUC graduates worldwide earned their degrees from UMUC Europe. Of those, 265 crossed the stage on May 4 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to receive their diplomas. Read the “Stars and Stripes” article “UMUC Graduates Juggled Military, Family Duties to Earn College Degrees”, for stories and photos featuring service members who graduated there. See the Video Facebook Live: UMUC Europe Commencement 2019 Ceremony, and the 2019 Commencement Facebook Photo Album.

Stateside ceremonies—the Doctoral Commencement on May 16, and three separate ceremonies on May 18-19 to confer associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees—featured keynote and student speakers representing the U.S. Army, The U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force.

Thursday, May 16

Doctoral Commencement student speaker Maxville Frost, a fall 2018 graduate of the Doctor of Management program, credited his mother’s wisdom, his Marine Corps training and the support of his wife—who he met in the Marines—for successfully navigating his journey from “abject poverty to this doctoral stage”

Because he had a learning disability that went undiagnosed until he was in his 20s, he did poorly in school and lacked the self-esteem to turn things around. When he was told “college isn’t for everybody,” his mother co-signed for him to join the Marines as he was too young to sign on his own.

There. He said, he learned to constantly move forward, even when everyone else is retreating. “The Marine Corps taught me that every obstacle is just another opportunity for greatness, but as soon as you clear that obstacle there will be another one.”

They also taught him that a warrior’s greatest weapon is the mind, the ability to think, because if you can think, if you can reason, you have options, Frost said.

During the last seven years while continuously deployed in combat zones he earned a Master of Science degree, two graduate certificates, and completed his doctoral program—all from UMUC.  Frost told graduates, “do not let your environment hold you back from striving to reach your goals and dreams.”

“They say that the strongest metal is forged in the hottest fire. Many years ago, I revised that into my own motto: ‘Out of adversity is forged the metal of character.’” Frost said.

Watch a video of the Doctoral Commencement to see Frost's address to graduates

Saturday morning May 18

Keynote speaker Command Sgt, Maj. Lynice Thorpe-Noel, the first-ever female senior enlisted advisor for the United States Army Human Resources Command, who earned both her associate and bachelor’s degrees at UMUC, spoke with emotion about returning from deployment in 2005 to find her UMUC diploma among the enormous pile of mail waiting for her.

“At that moment, filled with excitement, with tears running down my face, I said ‘I did it!’ I had accomplished the mission I’d started more than 13 years earlier … and had proof to show for it.”

Thorpe-Noel, who enlisted in the Army 30 years ago, served in combat positions during “Operation Desert Shield” and “Desert Storm,” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom Two” in northern Iraq where she was responsible for the successful delivery of more than 10 million pounds of mail to and from U.S. service members. She has served four tours in Europe as well as tours in Hawaii, Texas, Georgia, and other locations around the world. And today, as an advisor to the commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, she oversees the health and welfare of more than 4,000 individuals and supervises the professional development of more than 600 non-commissioned officers.

“I made a commitment to myself that regardless of how long it would take, I would stay the course and complete my degree,” Thorpe-Noel said.

On one of her assignment in Germany, her first sergeant who had never attended college himself was so committed to her completing her degree that he adjusted her work schedule so that she could take classes during the day and speed her progress, she said.

“I took some classes online, too. I even once took a final exam while deployed in Iraq using a hospital bed for my tabletop. The proctor was an Army surgeon.”

Thorpe-Noel said she remains eternally grateful for her first sergeant’s support and offered this charge to graduates:

“I believe we would all agree that no one achieves success alone. Pay them back by paying it forward to someone else. Empower, educate, enable and engage others. Be an example for them.”

Watch Thorpe-Noel's keynote address.

Saturday afternoon May 18

Disabled Air Force veteran Natalie Madison-Rascoe, Bachelor of Science in Psychology, said she wondered how should could push through to complete her courses with her chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.

It was her husband’s support, the fact that UMUC “truly cares for and supports military members and their families,” and the fundamental life lessons her mother taught her that got her through, she said.

“You will always have to work. Choose the job you want to do and do it well,” she said her mother told her.  Completing a college degree means newfound choices, Madison-Rascoe told graduates. “Now we have more options of where we work—and with whom.”

She said her mother also told her to love “like your bills are paid, your house is clean, and you don’t have a care in the world.” And, her mother told her to get her education because no one can take that away from you.

“I was thinking about our class, and I need you to know that you are all diamonds. A diamond starts out as a rock placed under enormous pressure and high temperatures.” Madison-Rascoe told fellow graduates.

As she sees it, she and her academic colleagues all began their UMUC journey in the rough. They withstood the heat and life’s pressures that tested them along the way. And with every course completed, they became more polished.

Now, they are poised to shine on. “Remember, you don’t have to follow if you have the passion and knowledge to lead,” she said.

Watch Madison-Rascoe's address to fellow graduates.

Sunday afternoon May 19

In 2017, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Cara Novas, Master of Science in Cybersecurity, was awarded a UMUC Pillars of Strength Scholarship to pursue her graduate degree. She was selected for the special program, made possible through the generosity of the Blewitt Foundation, because of her service as a volunteer caregiver for an injured and wounded Marine, Junior Novas—who was, at first, an acquaintance, then friend, and now her husband.

“Walking with Junior on the road to recovery from his wound was at times deeply devastating; at times profoundly joyous; and always indescribably humbling,” said Novas, adding that she became a Marine because, given their journey together,  she believed she would be uniquely able to lead Marines, to mold young recruits, to understand their struggles, and to celebrate their triumphs.

The same pursuit of personal betterment led her to seek out a degree at UMUC, she said, and urged fellow graduates to maintain the focus, commitment, and drive that they brought to their studies at UMUC.

“Finishing your degree is in no way an end, but a beginning. And the same spirit of curiosity and bravery that led you to pursue your degree will be vital as you look to apply everything you’ve learned going forward,” said Novas, who is eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child.

“We have a tremendous opportunity before us to give back, to make an impact, and to change the world.  To do so, we must keep within us this thirst to constantly improve and to push our limits.”

Watch Novas' address to fellow graduates.

For more about the Cara Novas’ story, read “1st Lt. Cara Novas Has Taken on a Big Personal Mission—to Support Her Fellow Marines.”

For more information about Cara Novas and fellow awardees, read “2017 Pillars of Strength Scholarships Awarded to Caregivers of Wounded Veterans at Ceremony Hosted by MGM National Harbor.”

Get more information about The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program here.

Global Commencements

Aside from ceremonies in Europe on May 4, and stateside in Maryland May 16-19, UMUC also held Commencement 2019 ceremonies in Tokyo on April 13; on Okinawa, April 20; in South Korea on April 27; and on Guam, May 11. UMUC also participates in combined graduation ceremonies with other schools on several military bases in the U.S. For example, UMUC was one of 11 schools that participated in a commencement ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, where 51 members of the military, as well as family members, were awarded degrees.