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The Journey Begins

Advice to graduates: 'Choose your own path'

Fittingly, the Commencement speaker’s address focused on a journey.

As more than 1,200 students celebrated their graduation and prepared to set out on a new path, alumnus Larry Maggi ’79, chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, described his 5,578-mile motorcycle ride across the United States.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former Washington County sheriff, Maggi shared anecdotes from his 2016 journey, which included meeting a homeless veteran in Missouri and being invited to lead a Buffalo Soldiers parade in Tombstone, Ariz.

Larry Maggi '79 shares stories from his cross-country motorcycle ride at Cal U's 186th Commencement.

Maggi enjoyed a 24-year career as a state police trooper and criminal investigator before entering the political arena in 1997. He urged the graduates to occasionally “push the envelope.”

“Once in a while, disconnect the filter, remove the glass and look upon life without a transparent barrier,” he said.

“It does not have to be from the back of a motorcycle, but it does have to be with your own eyes and your own senses. You will find the world as it was meant to be seen, and you will discover your place in it.”

Maggi told the graduates they are positioned to prosper.

“You will choose your own path to success, your own love for family, and you will create a life after Cal U,” he said.

“I am certain that the education you received here has prepared you for life, and now you are ready to achieve success as you define it.”

Next destinations

Joshua Luko is already on his way.

His 2017 internship with Partners for Fish and Wildlife, based at Cal U, turned into a job as a habitat specialist. Two days after receiving his diploma in environmental sciences, Luko headed to Garrett County, Md., under the guidance of program coordinator Jose Taracido.

He credits Cal U biology professor Dr. Robert Whyte for arranging the internship.

“Dr. Whyte’s classes also gave me an understanding of why we were completing the work in a certain manner and how it benefited wildlife,” Luko said. “Overall, I loved my experience in the major and the internship. The work was great hands-on experience.”

Mariah Howze, chair of the Senior Gift Drive Committee, presented University President Geraldine M. Jones with a check for more than $10,000 contributed by graduating seniors and their families.

Senior Class Envoy Mariah Nicole Howze (right) presents a senior gift of more than $10,000 to University President Geraldine M. Jones.

Howze earned her degree in psychology with a minor in business. Her next stop: a position in human resources.

“I definitely have a desire to make a difference in people’s lives, and I’m ready to improve a work environment so businesses can be more effective,” she says.

With a term as the student member of Cal U’s Council of Trustees behind her, political science graduate Ellen “Mari” Boyle is heading to Penn State Dickinson Law, where she received a full scholarship.

“This opportunity definitely would not have been possible without all the support and help I was given at Cal U,” she said. “I am certainly Cal U proud.”

Melissa Behanna, an education major from Monongahela, can't wait to turn her tassel during Commencement.

Commencement ceremonies began May 11, when master’s degree candidates received their diplomas and were vested in their academic hoods. Undergraduates received their bachelor’s and associate degrees May 12.

Rose Nelson, a graduate of Cal U’s undergraduate nursing program, added a master’s degree in nursing administration and leadership.

“I learned so much in this program,” said Nelson, who is employed by an insurance company that handles workers compensation.

“I can tell an employer, ‘I may not have done this yet, but I know it, and if you give me a chance, I can do it!’”

Theatre graduates (from left) Sidney Popielarcheck, Mark Barrett and Kayla Grimm are all smiles as they gather outside Steele Hall.

Carlos Medina works for the Capital Area Intermediate Unit, based in Enola, Pa. His new master’s degree in exercise science, with a sport psychology concentration, complements his passion for helping athletes to succeed.

“I want to use my personal experiences and my education to help them with their mindset and training,” Medina said. “I’d like to get my certification as a performance coach and then be a consultant.”

It's a great day for liberal arts major Virgil McClendon, of Pittsburgh.

Lunch on the Quad

Before the Commencement ceremonies, graduates gathered for a new event, the President’s Lunch on the Quad.

The informal gathering made Global Online student Amanda Hershey’s first visit to Cal U all the more memorable. The Coudersport, Pa., resident and aspiring personal trainer met Dr. Bruce Barnhart, who began his Cal U career as an athletic trainer and is now the University’s provost.

“The campus is amazing, and to have this (lunch) out in the open where people can … mingle with others is really nice,” said Hershey, who earned a degree in sport management studies.

“The five-hour drive here was so worth it. I can’t wait to go up on stage and get my degree!”

Online student Hadeel Yaqoub waves to her family in the Convocation Center. She traveled from Iraq to receive her master's degree in Social Science: Arabic Language and Linguistics.

President Jones greeted each of the graduates personally and offered them heartfelt advice.

“Although you’ll receive your degree today, please recognize that your education is not done,” she told them. “Every day brings new opportunities for learning.

“Trust in your own abilities and talents. And no matter what happens, you must follow your own moral compass. Be courageous and know that you can — and will — make a difference for those you meet along the way. “May you find happiness and satisfaction in the days and years ahead.”

"No matter what happens, you must follow your own moral compass. Be courageous and know that you can – and will – make a difference for those you meet along the way."
University President Geraldine M. Jones

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