UMUC celebrates graduates in weekend ceremony
May 10, 2015
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — After nine deployments in 11 years as an Army Ranger, not much could faze former sniper Joseph Lynch except, perhaps, using his mind.
Lynch was among more than 1,125 graduates to earn a degree this year from the University of Maryland University College Europe, an accomplishment he wasn’t certain was possible, given his struggles with memory loss, migraines and other issues due to a traumatic brain injury.
“Going through high school and even in the military, I was always that guy that could read a textbook, ‘OK, I’ve got it,’” Lynch said. “The next day, I’d do the test, no problem. Now, I have to read and read and read; I would take hours every day, tons of notes.”
But his perseverance paid off. Lynch passed his classes with flying colors, literally.
On Saturday, he walked the stage with about 250 graduates at the UMUC Europe Class of 2015 commencement at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern wearing the blue summa cum laude cord draped over his black gown. Lynch needed only 3 1/2 years to finish his bachelor’s of science degree in business administration, carrying a 3.9 grade-point average.
He took all his classes while living in northern Italy. After his medical retirement from the Army in 2011, he and his wife, Susanna, found out “you can go to school anywhere in the world” and the Post 9/11 GI Bill would pay for it, he said. They ended up first in Vicenza, where Lynch attended classes with UMUC and earned an associate’s degree in Italian studies. For the last year, they’ve lived in Bassano del Grappa, with Lynch finishing up his degree online.
“It’s a big deal,” he said, of being able to participate in commencement. “It’s definitely something I thought I would never do, and (I was) scared to do, with all the memory issues.”
This year’s graduates comprised the 63rd class at UMUC Europe, part of the largest military-affiliated commencement overseas, UMUC officials said. About 40 percent of the class was active duty, from all services. Of those, 85 received their degree during the same year in which they deployed.
It likely took former soldier Paul Rinas less time to grow his long, bushy beard than it did to complete his bachelor’s of arts degree in English. To celebrate the milestone, he and his wife packed up their three kids and drove 11 hours from their home near the Alconbury and Molesworth military communities in the United Kingdom to participate in commencement.
“For the ceremony and the experience,” Rinas said. “It took me nearly 9.5 years to get my degree. I wanted to cement it.”
About 1,000 guests attended the ceremony, most of them family members who supported their loved ones with loud claps and cheers.
Keynote speaker Army Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, told the graduates — a group that included his daughter Brooke, that no one ever says — ‘damn, I wish I hadn’t got that degree.’ You’ll never regret it. Education is a key to success.”
This year, more than 15,000 students took classes in UMUC’s Europe division, officials said during commencement. The college conferred 526 bachelor’s degrees, 104 master’s degrees, and 546 associate degrees. Business administration was the most popular degree. The average age of this year’s bachelor degree graduates is 36, according to UMUC.
Also on Saturday, Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Sonya Howell Barrow earned her third degree with UMUC, a master’s in cybersecurity that she hopes to one day parlay into a civilian sector job. The single mother of two approaches her education with a laser-like focus that four deployments and a bout with cancer couldn’t deter.
“Being a single parent, I have to keep moving,” she said. “Like I always tell my kids, ‘I’m the house. If the house fails, we all fail.’ I’m the house. I’m the foundation.”
About 73 percent of this year’s graduates are married and 81 percent have children. Taking college courses as new parents wasn’t easy, according to Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabriel Time and his wife, Rachelle. The Times, both 27 and parents to two young girls, ages 4 and 1, each earned degrees, Gabriel a bachelor’s and Rachelle an associate’s.
They both wore their gowns to Saturday’s ceremony, though Rachelle Time wasn’t sure she would walk the stage, since someone had to look after the kids. But, if it hadn’t been for their girls, the couple said they’re not sure they would have even made it this far.
“We knew we had to set an example for our kids, instill the importance of education in them,” Rachelle Time said.
“We had to sacrifice a lot,” Gabriel Time said, “a lot of traveling and going out with friends, to stay home and do homework.”
It was worth it in the end. “I’m excited and relieved that it’s over,” he said.