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Twins, 'senior,' 131 others 'row out' from Mont Alto

May 18, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

MONT ALTO, Pa. -- Alicia and Stacey Cornwell always have been closest to one another, even as busy college students at Penn State Mont Alto over the past few years.

After graduating Saturday morning, the twin sisters are preparing to separate for longer than ever.

Alicia and Stacey each received a bachelor's degree in English during spring commencement, but the identical degrees for the identical twins hold very unidentical futures.

Alicia hopes to remain close to her home in Greencastle, Pa., while Stacey wants to head to Annapolis. If all goes as planned, it will be a substantial adjustment for the 22-year-old sisters -- Alicia is about three minutes older -- who never have been apart for more than two weeks.

"I'm scared," Alicia said.

"We're scared," Stacey interrupted.

The fear will pass and be forgotten. But the twins will remember Saturday and all the hard work that led up to it for quite some time.

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"It's been nice to go through the whole thing with my sister," Alicia said. "We've gone through everything together in our lives."

The twins graduated together from Clear Spring High School in 2003, enrolled together at Hagerstown Community College and transferred to and roomed together at Penn State Mont Alto a year later.

They even migrated together from their original majors -- Alicia first, Stacey soon after.

"I began in a (physical therapy) major, and I found that I was spending more time helping my friends with their term papers," said Alicia of her decision to change her major.

Stacey followed, leaving her elementary education major to pursue a B.A. in English, just like her sister.

"Once she started, I thought I might like it, too," Stacey said.

Alicia and Stacey were among 35 students to receive baccalaureate degrees Saturday. Ninety-nine others graduated with associate degrees during commencement, which lasted about 90 minutes inside the Multipurpose Activities Center.

John J. Romano, vice president for Penn State's Commonwealth Campuses, served as commencement speaker and relayed the best advice he ever received -- from his father 51 years ago: "Don't wait for your ship to come in. Row out and meet it."

He told the graduates that their futures are in their hands.

"You can advance it along by giving your tasks in life your best -- your best at work, at education and learning, your best to your family and loved ones," he said. "It is easy to say these things we should do, but it is much more difficult to actually do them."

Those words certainly were valued by 57-year-old Carol Shaffer -- the "senior student," as she called it, of the Mont Alto graduates.

Shaffer, of Scotland, Pa., is the oldest of the class of 2008, and she was recognized prior to graduation. She will complete two internships to complete her associate of arts degree in occupational therapy.

"It's a very humbling experience. Where did the two years go?" Shaffer asked herself. "At 57, I'm praying there will be a job opening for me."

Shaffer decided to pursue a degree in occupational therapy after a line of injuries and unfortunate events.

After 35 years as a hairdresser, she developed olecranon bursitis (tennis elbow) and later, she fell into the C&O Canal while biking along the towpath, breaking her wrist at the age of 55.

All of the doctor appointments led Shaffer to believe that a medical background might not be such a bad idea. So, after a brief stint at Harrisburg Area Community College, she wound up at the Mont Alto campus in December 2006.

It wasn't long before Shaffer was just another student.

"I wore my jeans and sweat shirts just like the kids. They were very good with me," Shaffer said. "When I first came into it, I wanted to be like a mother, then I realized I had to step away from that and just be a student."

Now, she will be just another graduate.

"It's not the end of the journey," she said. "It's the beginning."

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