For many of the more than 7,600 University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) winter graduates, a degree represents more than an academic and career credential. Their diplomas pay testament to the dogged pursuit of an education—sometimes amid medical challenges, hurricanes, military deployments, the births of babies and even the deaths of loved ones.
“Commencement at UMGC is a global celebration. We have students throughout the state of Maryland, across the United States and around the world, and it is a great honor to watch as they achieve their higher education dream,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “It is always a thrill to see these amazing students—many of whom have scaled significant obstacles—receive their diplomas.
“They provide impressive examples for their children, their families and their communities of what achievement looks like,” he added.
UMGC was created for adult learners, yet it is no small feat to return to school, sometimes after many years removed from a college course. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of UMGC students do exactly that every semester. They keep up with their classes while taking care of their children and exceling at their jobs. One woman who was a single mother at age 12 navigated poverty and homelessness en route to her degree. A single father, meanwhile, fit his classes into a daily schedule already jammed with family responsibilities and a demanding job as a police detective.
Eligio Littrell, deployed by the U.S. Army to Eastern Europe, scrambled to find reliable internet service so he could complete a required course for his Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security. Military members like Littrell make up more than half of UMGC’s students. The winter graduates in the military earned their degrees by studying in barracks, aboard Navy ships and even in active combat zones.
For stateside students, UMGC’s commencement is anchored by the Dec. 16-18 Winter Grad Walk. More than 2,200 students registered for the ceremony, which enables them to walk across a stage, receive their diplomas, and celebrate with family and friends close by.
These graduates enrolled in degree programs to advance their careers, move into new fields or launch their own businesses. They studied to set examples for their children or siblings. They studied to become the first members of the families to get a college degree. They studied because they are immigrants who want a chance to contribute to their new country.
Some graduates finished their degrees to make good on promises made long ago to their parents, grandparents, children or even themselves.
The winter Grad Walk will include family members finishing at the same time, among them at least two sets of mothers and sons and multiple married couples. Nadia Latoya Greenidge planned to fly from Chicago to Grad Walk in Maryland even though some people she cared about would be missing from the celebration. Greenidge had persevered with her studies after losing three members of her family and the daughter of her best friend to COVID-19 in a single week.
A Bachelor of Business Administration graduate attended virtual classes while flat on his back in bed, recovering from brain surgery. A young mother with depression stayed awake late into the night to finish homework assignments, using her studies as a way to keep focused. A long-haul trucker clinched his degree by pulling his 18-wheeler to the shoulder of the highway so he could take a virtual final exam in the truck’s cab.
For some, the degrees took two or four years to complete, enough time to have another child or two along the way. For others, the time investment was much longer. A Virginia man pushed past the fear that he was too old to go back to school and earned a Master of Science at age 62. Another student received a master’s degree in health care administration at age 65. David Rodich, of Brookeville, Maryland, finished his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science some 50 years after his studies were first derailed.
Over the course of the next two weeks, UMGC will profile more than a dozen graduates. See their stories as they are posted below:
- Student Speaker at Winter Graduation Offers Hope to Other Immigrants
- Through Trials and Tribulations, Lucreatia Perry Stayed the Course
- Teen Parent Set Back by Homelessness and Family Loss Celebrates Her New Degree
- Kendsley Rodriguez: Powering Through Surgeries and Pain to Earn Degree
- UMGC Grad Walk Includes Mother-Son Duos
- A Promise Fulfilled: Sonseeahray Adams Returns to School for Two Degrees
- LeTonya Butler, Three-time Cancer Survivor, Did Not Let Illness Derail Her Ambitions
- For Michael Zotoo, Higher Education Is the Key to a Navy Leadership Position
- Retiree David Rodich’s Experiences Drive His Desire to be a Life-Long Learner
- Full-time Work, Full-time Family and Two New Master’s Degrees
- Nadia Greenidge Taps Personal Experience in Launching Career in Health Care
- Passion for Tech Propels Rhoda Viernes Nuesca to Three UMGC Degrees
- Najila Ahsan's Quest to Change the World