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Kerri Evans, one of 51 students who received their University of Maryland University College diplomas at a joint recognition ceremony on Naval Station Norfolk, has big plans. After earning her associate degree in general studies, she is motivated to complete her bachelor’s degree in health care administration and perhaps become an officer.

Evans joined the Navy in 2014, directly out of high school and has completed two tours of duty in the Middle East—one for six months and the other for four months. While in Bahrain, she continued to take classes and even saw it as an advantage. “I like to get things done early and being seven or eight hours ahead, I felt like I had a little extra time to complete my assignments,” she said.

“Being in the Navy is what you make of it,” the Wisconsin native added. “You have to have a positive attitude.”

Evans’ sentiment channeled the advice of the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Captain Vince Baker, Naval Station Norfolk’s executive officer, who said he also began taking college classes early in his Navy career.

“What I learned from my own experience is that studying and achieving personal goals brings a certain satisfaction that sticks with you for the rest of your life and moves you to greater and greater accomplishments,” he told the graduates. “As you plan your next milestone, be sure to push that goal post just a little bit further, make it challenging, and when you achieve that goal, savor it.”

Keynote speaker Capt. Vince Graves, Nora Graves, UMUC regional director, and Kate Graves

It wasn’t only active duty military personnel that participated in the recognition ceremony. Kate Graves, whose father is a retired Navy officer, and whose mother is UMUC’s regional director for the area that includes Norfolk, walked across the stage to receive her MBA degree.

The moment was particularly poignant for her because her mother, Nora Graves, who attended the ceremony not only as a parent but also as the official representative of UMUC, performed the ceremonial hooding that signifies her master’s level degree.

“We work very hard to help our military personnel and their families accomplish their educational goals,” said Nora Graves. “So, it is extra special to see my daughter’s commitment to her education rewarded and to be there on stage handing her her diploma!”

The recognition ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk included nine other schools and is one of several such ceremonies at military bases across the U.S. and overseas.

Nora Graves places the master's hood on her daughter, Kate Graves

Kate Graves is an environmental engineer for Ernst & Young, the multinational consulting firm, and travels extensively for her job. She spent many late nights in hotels studying but said “UMUC was right there with me on the road. It was well worth the time,” she added “Earning an MBA has given me a new way to look at a problem, other than from a science perspective.”

Graves said that she wants to have a global career and the combination of her science, engineering and business background will give her an advantage when competing for jobs overseas with her company.