UMUC commencement ceremony a proud moment for 141 graduates
May 7, 2007
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Natasha Crumbles-Mitchell and Master Sgt. Michael Mitchell have a kindergarten-level strategy for holding down jobs, raising a 4-year-old and getting college degrees at the same time: Take turns.
For the past three years, the couple has alternated classroom days. That meant Crumbles-Mitchell might go to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, while her husband would go on Tuesday and Thursdays — an arrangement that often meant 12-hour days for Mitchell, and little time with each other. But on Saturday, they walked out of Seoul American High School’s auditorium together with University of Maryland University College degrees and a few skills they didn’t pick up in the classroom.
“You learn how to be organized and communicate, because you only see each other a couple of times a week,” Crumbles-Mitchell said.
UMUC’s Seoul campus class of 2007 included 141 military servicemembers, Department of Defense civilians, embassy staff, Japanese and South Korean citizens, and their family members.
Lt. Gen. David Valcourt, 8th Army commander, told the crowd he was especially proud of the military graduates. “Now you are the complete package. Now you have a college degree,” he said.
On average, it took UMUC-Asia graduates 13 years to earn degrees. The oldest graduate was 64 and the youngest was 19. They tended to be older than the typical stateside college graduate: on average, 36 years old for baccalaurate degrees and 30 years old for associate’s degrees.
Ninety-three percent took at least one distance education class and 95 took classes at more than one campus in Asia, Europe and Maryland.
“You truly walked down a different path to walk down the aisle today,” said keynote speaker Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
Kenneth Sullivan enrolled in his first class — Korean 111 — in 1991, a few months before he married his Korean-born wife, because he wanted to be able to talk more easily with her. He finished his last and hardest class, a distance education statistics course, on Friday and is still waiting for his professor in Florida to grade his exam.
“I’m really, really stressed out about that,” said the 47-year-old, an Army reservist and a hazardous materials handler and operator at Camp Carroll.
It took Elizabeth Rua-Berdine, mother of four and wife of an Army lieutenant colonel, 10 years of on-and-off classes to get her diploma. Her 8-year-old sons gave her back rubs when she was stressed by juggling classes and a job, and her husband helped brainstorm ideas for her papers and then proofread them.
“It’s her day. That’s why she’s walking,” said her husband, Lt. Col. Daniel Berdine. “This is kind of telling [the children] that it’s worth going to school.”