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Thousands Graduate, Serve as Inspriration

Approximately 200 students crossed the stage amongst cheers of "We love you" and "Way to go" at the 59th annual commencement ceremony of University of Maryland University College Europe held in Heidelberg.

The ceremony honored more than 1,100 graduates from across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Worldwide, more than 7,000 were recognized.

UMUC Europe and its partner institution Bowie State University awarded nearly 90 master's degrees, more than 500 bachelor's degrees, and almost 550 associates degrees.

The guest speaker and honorary degree recipient was retired Gen. William T. Hobbins who formerly served as the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Hobbins emphasized the power of critical thinking in his keynote address, urging students to question effectively and to "use critical thinking skills to make a difference."

UMUC President Susan Aldridge encouraged the class to take what they have learned and engage the future with a sense of passion and purpose.

"With your special knowledge - hard won - and true conviction born of life experience, you will undoubtedly rise to the occasion to transform your communities, your country and your world," she said.

Aldridge also highlighted students who have persevered in the face of multiple deployments, injuries, family obligations and other responsibilities, such as mother and son team Denise and Milton Johnson. Denise, a contract civilian in Heidelberg, earned her master's degree from Bowie State University. Her son, Milton, an information assurance security officer, made the long journey from Iraq to receive his master's degree from University of Maryland University College and celebrate this special day with family and friends.

Other inspiring stories included Edward Hutcherson, who completed his associate's degree while recovering from multiple surgeries after being wounded in Iraq. Shawna Brabandt earned a bachelor's degree while balancing her Air Force career, downrange deployments and the responsibilities of being a single mother.

Each year, UMUC awards the William C. Bentley Memorial Award to the graduate with the highest grade point average.

The award was established in honor of Col. Bentley, who was instrumental in bringing UMUC to Europe and also the first student to earn a UMUC degree in Europe.

This year's award was presented to Silvia Taylor by Bentley's grandson and namesake, Lt. Col. William C. Bentley, who is currently a U.S. Marine with the European Command in Stuttgart.
The graduating class included active duty military students from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as family members and civilians stationed abroad.

UMUC faculty members Deborah Griggs and Michael Apichella, nominated by students and selected to be the recipients of the 2011 Stanley J. Drazek Teaching Excellence Award, were also recognized at the ceremony in Heidelberg for distinguished excellence in teaching.

University of Maryland University College has awarded more than 60,000 degrees in Europe since 1949. In the 2010-2011 academic year, more than 25,000 students enrolled at 70 sites throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East and 90,000 students enrolled with UMUC worldwide.
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