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Graduate Coleen Acfalle,shakes hands with U.S. Forces Japan deputy commander Brig. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., as she walks on the stage to receive a diploma from Dr. Greg von Lehmen, acting provost and chief academic officer of University of Maryland University of College Asia, during the commencement ceremony Saturday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo.

Graduate Coleen Acfalle,shakes hands with U.S. Forces Japan deputy commander Brig. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., as she walks on the stage to receive a diploma from Dr. Greg von Lehmen, acting provost and chief academic officer of University of Maryland University of College Asia, during the commencement ceremony Saturday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. (Hana Kusumoto / S&S)

Graduate Coleen Acfalle,shakes hands with U.S. Forces Japan deputy commander Brig. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., as she walks on the stage to receive a diploma from Dr. Greg von Lehmen, acting provost and chief academic officer of University of Maryland University of College Asia, during the commencement ceremony Saturday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo.

Graduate Coleen Acfalle,shakes hands with U.S. Forces Japan deputy commander Brig. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., as she walks on the stage to receive a diploma from Dr. Greg von Lehmen, acting provost and chief academic officer of University of Maryland University of College Asia, during the commencement ceremony Saturday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. (Hana Kusumoto / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Alfonzo Carson poses for a photo after the University of Maryland University College Asia graduation ceremony. With him are his wife, Mariko, and daughter, Mariya, on Saturday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo.

Staff Sgt. Alfonzo Carson poses for a photo after the University of Maryland University College Asia graduation ceremony. With him are his wife, Mariko, and daughter, Mariya, on Saturday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. (Hana Kusumoto / S&S)

TOKYO — "Finally!" was among the cheers called out by the audience at this year’s University of Maryland University College Asia graduation ceremony as the graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas Saturday.

In fact, it took an average of 13 years for this year’s graduates to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

Most of the 71 graduates attending the 53rd commencement ceremony on Saturday took classes while balancing work, family and school.

"It feels great. It’s a long overdue," said Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Jones, 42.

It took 21 years for Jones to earn his Bachelor of Science. He said being in the Navy limited the number of classes he could take, and he had taken classes on and off during those years.

"It’s like I finally beat it. It’s done," Jones said.

"All of you graduates have worked long hours. And many of you have traveled long miles to reach this platform," said UMUC acting provost and chief academic officer Dr. Greg von Lehmen during the ceremony held at the New Sanno Hotel. "In pursuing this diploma, you’ve given a new meaning to the word sacrifice, having persevered against all odds to accomplish what to many of you — at times, I’m sure — seemed unattainable or even unimaginable."

Graduates embraced and shook hands as von Lehmen told them to take a moment to congratulate each other.

The college is awarding about 800 degrees this year to students from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, as well as civilians, embassy staff, dependents and Japanese and Korean nationals.

The average age of baccalaureate graduates was 35, while it was 31 for those receiving associate degrees. The youngest graduate this year was 20, and the oldest was 70.

"All the sacrifice is over," said Mary Joy Walter, 32, who during the five years of pursuing a degree became pregnant and had a baby.

Many students like Walter said they couldn’t have accomplished it without the support of their families.

"[My husband] basically took care of my infant," Walter said, adding that now it’s her husband’s turn to go to school.

"It’s always been a dream of mine," said Coleen Acfalle, 35, who received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She said she’s the first of eight children in her family to receive a college degree, and her mother traveled from Guam to attend the ceremony.

"We can’t be more proud of her than we are now," said her husband, Joe, 37.

Graduation ceremonies are scheduled for Okinawa on April 25 and South Korea on May 2.

Here is a list of the 2009 graduates who earned degrees from the University of Maryland University College Asia in Japan district:Master of ScienceMeave, FernandoBachelor of ArtsBarrett, Irene TBartels, Kelle RBoyle, Kristin ECornett, William DewayneDewey, Jeffrey LFerraro, Tim CFine, Jacob LGoddard, SophiaGraham, MichelleGreene, RobertHarris, Lee-AnneHatayama, TsutomuHopper,Emily EMoore,AdamMoore,Robert LPasquarella,KimberleyRabago,Florence ERoby,Elena LSvan,Darren TWatanabe,MaiWilson,Amanda MZierlein,VinsonBachelor of ScienceAcfalle, Coleen AAlexander, Anthony JAraki, FukunoriAsano, ChihoAshe-Blair, Deshanda DBauer, Denzil CBieze, Amy NBourgeois, Glenn CBradley, Michelle LBrogdon, Rhonda RBryant, Charles ABurdick, Amanda GCain, Ronald SCarson, AlfonzoChieffo, Shizue KColbert, Ira ACombs, Bianca E.L.Connell, Ryan FCoston, Michelle LCurnutte, Kelly MDabu, Emmanuel MDejesus, Julissa IDelong, Emily RDuryea, Tracy JoFabro, Rowena RFarnsworth, LauraFedele, Gaetano JFrady, BonnyFreeman, JohnFukushi, OsamuGarcia, Raymond RGardaya, Michele YGeorge, Kaseem YGeorge, Kenyana SGideon, Beth EGil, Maria ElizabethGonzalez, Homero AGorsuch, Robert PGrabin, Scott DGraves, SkylerGray, Karla KHarrell, TinaHarris, Sean MHarvey, Rossalind BHawley, James HowardHenderson, Michael DHollingsworth, KiyomiHolly, Christine BHooper, Chris RIkeda, YurimiIreland, Felicia LJenks, Thelma CJones, Patrick AKasai, MasakoKasai, Takahiro CKellaher, Patrick SKent, Tyler PhilipKidd, Sean MKlapiszewski, JosephKorcal, Jeffrey HKrueger, Kristzee MKuffel, Michael ALewis, Alfred DLucas, Maria KMajor, Donna FMartinez, GizelleMcDonald, Kimberly AMcglothan, Michael YMillington, John AMincarelli, Benjamin AMoore, Aaronette VMoses, Evan DMunozquinn, Vanessa EMoussaoui, Youssef ANelson, Eddie HNelson, LukeNichols, AdamOates, Gary Il EOswald, StevenPedrojew, MichellePendleton, SophiaPollard, Jill MPotter, Matthew VRagland, Myra FRansom, Jaorcie MRimbu, ZinaSarr,FatouSeibel, MarijoSena, AdrianSmith, Marlena GSmyth, Harold HSquezello,Daniel JStaton, James BStuart, David AllenSubbiondo, ChristineSuzuki, KazuhiroSumner, Courtney LeighSymak, Jason JTaylor, Pilar EThompson, Raymond EdwardTirrell, Heather MTruesdale Jr, Johnny LTuff, ChristeyUotani, Frank KVillaroman, Gloria VVisocsky, MargaretWalter, Mary JoyWilliams, Maureen AWintermute, Chris EWrenchey, John WWright, Leah MYamaguchi, YokoZillmer, JemalynAssociate of ArtsAbanto, Bernard FAleshire, KathrynArias, Chanel CBates, Joshua MBesancon, David SBrown, William DBullard, Steven PCabarcas, Jose LChandler, Zacquekine CCooper, Michael WilliamDean, Randy CEdmiston, JonathanFrench, Kristopher TFuentes, Nichol MarieGoaley, StephanieGordon, Rayfield EHalfacre, CalvinHall, Becky AHarrington, Timothy JHuynh, Vinh VHyson, Gregory MJarmon II, Phillip RodneyJohnson, Brian KJohnson, Erika LKennedy, Madison RKlejmont, Ryan TKosko, Edward JLadrido, Carlos HaliliLee, Asia NLockett, Jeremy CLogan, Emily RMagnusson, Stephen MManalo, Arnel JMartinez, Marco FMazza, Vicki LMcDonald IV, John TMiller, Brent OttisMinner, JeanaMinter, DarrylMizutani, YukaMoreno, LuisMueller, Bryan AMurdock, Tamie NNydam, RobertOgata, EmikoParker, Peter TPaz, JonathanPham, Phong QPhillips, LeslieQuinto, Miguel FernandoRenton, Shauntel MRichards, Dushane ORogers, Donna SheretaSalas, Kristin NSarmiento, Ranel SShank, Angela RShattuck, StephanieShaw, Tambria MakebaSmith,Brandon MSnyder,Lauralee SSoileau,SharonSoriano,Aileengail MStanford, Joe III LStraub, Abigail RTateishi, YoshimasaTaylor, NaokoThornton, JulieTurner, Truman RVelez, WilliamWelch, Ian SWigant, Joshua JWilliams, Jonathon MWittneben, BenjaminWright, Angela AnitaYokoyama, Taeko

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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