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Kaplan College graduates focus on new beginnings

October 19, 2008|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN - Her father quit school after the sixth grade. Her mother made it through ninth grade, setting a pattern for her two older siblings.

Six months before her father died, when Rhonda Gasche was 17, she wanted to quit school, too. Only her father's heartfelt pleas changed her mind.

"He realized education was important," Gasche said. "He had no idea that his cotton-topped third child would one day stand on this stage as a college graduate addressing distinguished faculty, respected professors, loving families and fellow graduates."

Gasche spoke at Kaplan College's fall 2008 commencement Saturday morning at North Hagerstown High School. One-hundred-twenty-seven graduates received certificates and degrees from the allied health, business, computer technology and legal divisions.

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Gasche went to college 37 years after she graduated from high school, after stints as a construction flagger in Pennsylvania, a shingle packer in Alaska and an office manager at GST AutoLeather in Hagerstown.

When GST closed its doors in 2006, Gasche, 54, of Chambersburg, Pa., said she learned funding was available through a dislocated worker program. She graduated summa cum laude on Saturday with an associate degree as a medical secretary/assistant.

"I decided to go back to college and do what I always wanted to do," she said.

Kaplan College President W. Christopher Motz said most of Saturday's graduates have started new careers.

"That's what this is all about - getting a new start in a career," Motz said. "I think most of these graduates understand the value of education, especially in this economy where the job market is so tight. I'm proud of what they will contribute to the local work force."

Bessie Decker, who graduated from the college in 1973 when it was known as Maryland Medical Secretary School, received the Distinguished Alumni Award and addressed the graduates. During her career as a medical assistant, Decker said the hiring freeze of a prospective employer led her to a temporary job placement agency. The agency placed her in the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts.

"I made it a point to learn other people's jobs as well as my own," Decker said.

A wife, mother and employee, Decker went back to school in 1995 at age 36 and earned a paralegal degree. She became chief deputy in 1999. In April, Decker became the first women to be named clerk of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's top appellate court.

"I am here sharing this story with you today to let you know it is never too late to reach for the stars. Have your goals, and as the army says, 'Be all you can be,'" Decker told the graduates. "Never feel like life owes you something. Life, personally and in career, is what you make it."

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