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Graduates of Hagerstown-based university programs take pride in achievements

May 21, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

Click here for more photos of this and other Tri-State area graduation ceremonies

HAGERSTOWN -- There were no handshakes Tuesday as the nursing students crossed the stage at a graduation celebration for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

Instead, each of the 13 students that make up the first graduating class of Towson University's nursing program at USMH received warm hugs from their advisers and faculty members.

And the students wouldn't have it any other way.

"We know our professors so well," said nursing program graduate Ashley Smith, 22, of Reisterstown, Md.

Smith enrolled at the Hagerstown campus in fall 2006 after learning there were no spots open in the nursing program at Towson's main campus. She said she was apprehensive about the program at first, but her fears quickly disappeared.

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"It was great," she said, describing the tight bonds formed with the other nursing students during study groups and get-togethers. "You got to know each other a little too well."

Jacquelyn D. Jordan, academic chair of Towson's nursing department, commended the students on their perseverance.

"They never gave up," she said. "They can tell everyone, 'We were the first ones, we laid the path for everyone to follow.'"

Tuesday's graduation celebration also honored students graduating from Frostburg University and University of Maryland University College degree programs through USMH. The celebration supplemented commencement ceremonies at the students' sponsoring institutions.

For many of the students, such as UMUC graduate Lisa Harris, this month's commencement represented an end to years of balancing family, work and education.

Harris, 47, of Mount Airy, Md., said she started taking classes for her business administration degree when her son was a baby and her daughter was a young teen. Now, her son is 12, her daughter has been out of college for a year and Harris finally received her degree Saturday at a commencement at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center.

"I was a little teary-eyed," said Harris, who had set a goal to finish the degree by the time she was 50. "It felt good to finally get there."

For Danielle Dwinnells, 29, of Smithsburg, the road to graduation was much shorter, but finishing was every bit as satisfying.

In just one year, Dwinnells took all 37 of the class credits for her master's of arts in teaching while also student teaching, working part time as an accountant and raising a 3-year-old son.

"It was a long, hard road for her," said her husband, Dan Dwinnells. "She burned the candle at both ends."

But despite the rigorous schedule, Dwinnells pushed herself to do her best, and she finished the year with a 4.0 grade-point average.

Now, she's looking forward to a summer of relaxing and spending time with her family. In the fall, she will face new challenges as she begins a job as an elementary school teacher, but after surviving this year, she's not worried.

"I think this year has proven that I can do a lot," she said.

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