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Sgt. Maj. Cecil Eugene Carter accepts his diploma Sunday during the University of Maryland University College Asia's 50th anniversay commencement ceremony at Yongsan Garrison. Carter, 46, worked for three years, taking three classes at a time, to earn his degree in human resource management. He's retiring next month after 30 years in the Army.

Sgt. Maj. Cecil Eugene Carter accepts his diploma Sunday during the University of Maryland University College Asia's 50th anniversay commencement ceremony at Yongsan Garrison. Carter, 46, worked for three years, taking three classes at a time, to earn his degree in human resource management. He's retiring next month after 30 years in the Army. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

Sgt. Maj. Cecil Eugene Carter accepts his diploma Sunday during the University of Maryland University College Asia's 50th anniversay commencement ceremony at Yongsan Garrison. Carter, 46, worked for three years, taking three classes at a time, to earn his degree in human resource management. He's retiring next month after 30 years in the Army.

Sgt. Maj. Cecil Eugene Carter accepts his diploma Sunday during the University of Maryland University College Asia's 50th anniversay commencement ceremony at Yongsan Garrison. Carter, 46, worked for three years, taking three classes at a time, to earn his degree in human resource management. He's retiring next month after 30 years in the Army. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

Graduates offered each other comfort and tissues Sunday afternoon as 63 people were awarded their bachelor’s and associate’s degrees from the University of Maryland University College.

Graduates offered each other comfort and tissues Sunday afternoon as 63 people were awarded their bachelor’s and associate’s degrees from the University of Maryland University College. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Candy Johnson poses for pictures Sunday with a friend after receiving her bachelor's degree in criminal justice. She began working on her education with the University of Maryland University College in 1986, after joining the Army with a year's worth of college credits. She's planning on retiring from the Army next year and working on a master's in education.

Staff Sgt. Candy Johnson poses for pictures Sunday with a friend after receiving her bachelor's degree in criminal justice. She began working on her education with the University of Maryland University College in 1986, after joining the Army with a year's worth of college credits. She's planning on retiring from the Army next year and working on a master's in education. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Sgt. Maj. Cecil Eugene Carter started working on his bachelor’s degree with the University of Maryland University College three years ago after more than two decades of being a soldier.

“I always pushed my soldiers to do it,” Carter, 46, said Sunday. “They kind of turned on me and said, ‘You’re always making us do it.’ So they asked why I wasn’t doing it.”

So he did. Three years ago, he began taking three classes each semester, two classes at Yongsan Garrison and a third online. “I wanted to finish my degree before I retired.”

After 30 years in the Army, he’ll separate June 9 as U.S. Forces Korea Air and Missile Defense Division Unit’s senior enlisted member. He’ll also have his bachelor of science degree in human resource management.

On Sunday, Carter and 44 other servicemembers, civilian workers, family members and South Korean workers received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Maryland. Another 18 received their associate’s degrees at Maryland’s 50th anniversary of offering college classes at military bases in Asia.

“You didn’t take the traditional way,” Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt, the 8th U.S. Army commanding general, told the graduates during a ceremony at Seoul American High School. “You had to come out and face the world.”

That often meant having to do without financial help from parents, taking breaks from school to care for children, working harder to balance work and school, Valcourt said. “You have been tested,” he said. “I share in your celebration today.”

Maryland’s University College Asia program will graduate 770 students this spring. The average student this year took 13 years to earn a bachelor’s degree, is 36 years old and has had the opportunity to take classes around the world: Guam, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Kuwait, Singapore and Maryland.

Staff Sgt. Candy Johnson, 39, said staying in South Korea for the past four years helped her earn her degree in criminal justice. She’d started in 1986, just after joining the Army with a year’s worth of college on her record.

During the next two decades she took classes, but she also got married, had a child and got divorced. “I was a single mom with a 2-year-old,” she said, explaining why she had to take breaks from her schooling.

On Sunday, her dedication paid off. “I’m just overjoyed,” she said, hugging her daughter, Candice, who is in the seventh grade. “I’m the first of my family to get a degree.”

Johnson also plans to retire, though not until next year. She knows what she’s going to do: enroll in a master’s program for education.

Carter has his plans as well. After 30 years of moving, he’s let his wife pick their next home: San Antonio. He’s already enrolled in a master’s program and will start in August.

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