Support our mission
 
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates take the stage during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. About 230 graduates participated in this year's ceremony.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates take the stage during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. About 230 graduates participated in this year's ceremony. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates take the stage during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. About 230 graduates participated in this year's ceremony.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates take the stage during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. About 230 graduates participated in this year's ceremony. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
Staff Sgt. Andrea Vasquez kisses her baby after crossing the stage during the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
Staff Sgt. Andrea Vasquez kisses her baby after crossing the stage during the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
Ivan Centola, a retired soldier, talks about the relief of finishing a master of business administration degree prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
Ivan Centola, a retired soldier, talks about the relief of finishing a master of business administration degree prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
Giles Foden, the author of "The Last King of Scotland" and a University of Maryland University College writing instructor, delivers the commencement address at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
Giles Foden, the author of "The Last King of Scotland" and a University of Maryland University College writing instructor, delivers the commencement address at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates listen to guest speaker Giles Foden, the author of ?The Last King of Scotland? and a UMUC instructor during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates listen to guest speaker Giles Foden, the author of ?The Last King of Scotland? and a UMUC instructor during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates stand in groups while waiting for the commencement ceremony to start at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. About 230 graduates participated in this year's ceremony.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates stand in groups while waiting for the commencement ceremony to start at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. About 230 graduates participated in this year's ceremony. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates take their seats during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates take their seats during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates listen to Giles Foden during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates listen to Giles Foden during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrea Vasquez talks about the challenge of being a new mom and finishing her bachelor's degree prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrea Vasquez talks about the challenge of being a new mom and finishing her bachelor's degree prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Javiar Caldera talks about times his classes were delayed due to mortar attacks in Afghanistan prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Javiar Caldera talks about times his classes were delayed due to mortar attacks in Afghanistan prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Allen Adams explains his strategy for taking classes while being deployed prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. Adams earned a bachelor?s degree in business administration.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Allen Adams explains his strategy for taking classes while being deployed prior to the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. Adams earned a bachelor?s degree in business administration. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates receive their degrees during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates receive their degrees during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates celebrate after receiving their degrees during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
University of Maryland University College Europe graduates celebrate after receiving their degrees during the commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)
About 230  University of Maryland University College Europe graduates took part in the 2017 commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017.
About 230 University of Maryland University College Europe graduates took part in the 2017 commencement ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - Tech. Sgt. Allen Adams began studying for a college degree nearly 10 years ago.

On Saturday, the Spangdahlem airman capped an academic journey that spanned three different countries and two deployments by crossing the stage with about 230 fellow graduates at the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony.

“I’m happy, I’m ecstatic,” he said, of earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration, this year’s most popular degree.

“Mission complete,” Adams said. “Now it’s time for a master’s degree.”

Adams was among 1,189 UMUC Europe graduates this year. Nearly half of this year’s class - about 45 percent - are active duty.

Adams took longer than the UMUC Europe average of 6.3 years to complete the requirements for a bachelor’s. But at 29, he’s still ahead of the curve, with his fellow graduates averaging 40 years of age.

Ivan Centola, 49, a retired soldier and civilian employee in Wiesbaden, beamed at the thought of receiving his master’s in business administration, one of 143 graduates to earn the higher degree.

“I think our smiles on our faces are just the perfect expression,” he said. “It’s a great relief to not have to worry about books and turning in homework.”

No books were spotted inside the Ramstein Officers’ Club during the ceremony, the 65th such one in Europe. The venue this year was switched from downtown Kaiserslautern to the base.

Giles Foden, the prizewinning British author of “The Last King of Scotland” and a UMUC Europe writing instructor at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom since January, gave the commencement address.

“From such small beginnings, great things grow,” Foden said, remarking that “commencement” emphasizes the sense of a new beginning and a degree can open doors once closed.

“‘That day of commencement’ has a very fine sound to it,” he said. “It could almost be a movie title with all of you as the stars.”

Such a movie might also be called “tales of perseverance.”

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Hamilton, 37, stayed the course, despite a cancer diagnosis, surgeries and birth of his daughter more than a year ago.

He started out as an art major at community college in Indianapolis when he was 18, before switching to general studies, then hotel management. The aircraft maintainer finally earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration.

It feels “fantastic, overdue,” he said.

Jarrod Garceau, 36, and Centola were among the last six standing - from a group that started with 18 - to get an MBA through online and monthly face-to-face classes.

The key to success was a willingness to sacrifice, Garceau, a civilian worker at Spangdahlem, said.

“Just put down the X-box controller, put down that Play Station,” he said. “How many hours do you log onto your Internet to look at web sites and YouTube? If you minused all that out of your life, you would have enough time … to invest into a degree.”

Sleep and family time were also sacrificed: About 60 percent of UMUC Europe graduates have kids.

Staff Sgt. Andrea Vasquez, 25, gave birth four months ago while taking two classes. An Air Force lab technician at Ramstein and a single mother, Vasquez finished her bachelor’s with support from friends and her instructors, who let her work ahead or turn assignments in late without penalty.

“I had a goal,” she said. “I wanted to graduate by the spring, so I had to stay with that goal.”

Maggie Gifaldi, 37, a former Hebrew linguist in the Navy, balanced motherhood with full-time studies in pursuit of a bachelor’s in business. “Being able to separate school and home life,” said the mother of four from Wiesbaden. “A lot of things were due on Sunday; a lot of late nights, weekends.”

But her kids also motivated her. “They see how important it is, to get an education,” she said. “My parents didn’t have degrees and so for me to have my bachelor’s and continue on, I think is huge for my kids.”

Those who earned degrees while downrange faced a different set of challenges.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Javier Caldera, 45, of Vilseck, earned a bachelor’s in business administration through three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mortars disrupted class on occasion while he was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2013.

One mortar hit so close, “it shook everything and the power went out,” he said. “Everybody had to go out (of the classroom) and go into a bunker.”

Adams, the airmen who deployed to Turkey, dealt with tight living quarters, not mortars.

“Every night, I remember my guys used to complain because there were eight of us in a tent,” with each section separated by sheets, he said. “Late at night, I’d be on my laptop, my area would be lit up so my neighbors couldn’t sleep.

“They would always complain, ‘Allen, turn your laptop off, turn your laptop off,’” he said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m taking five classes. I can’t.’”

svan.jennifer @stripes.com

Migrated
author headshot
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
twitter Email

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up