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Kaplan University holds graduation ceremonies

September 26, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

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    HAGERSTOWN -- Adversity comes in many forms.

    For Dennis Shaffer, it was being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma when he was 5 years old.

    He might have been too young to understand the severity of his disease or the effects he suffered from three months of chemotherapy and radiation, he said.

    But he does remember the needles.

    "As a child, it was very scary," he said. "I fought it so much, they had to strap me down on a papoose board to draw blood."

    Then, he met a man named Joseph.

    "He was a phlebotomist, but to me, he was more than that," Shaffer said. "He treated me with kindness. He treated me like a person. Even as a child, he left a big impression."

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Shaffer decided when he grew up, he wanted to do Joseph's job.

He wanted to become a phlebotomist.

Saturday morning, healthy and 25 years removed from his bed at Bethesda (Md.) Naval Hospital, Shaffer achieved that goal. He graduated with honors from Kaplan University with a certificate in phlebotomy.

He also was one of two student speakers for the school's fall 2009 commencement at North Hagerstown High School.

And to top it off, he received the American Society of Clinical Pathology's 2009 Student Honor Award.

"It's all unbelievable," the 30-year-old Chambersburg, Pa., resident said. "I guess you can say I'm driven. I always wanted to go to school, but never had the means. I didn't have the support either. But now, I have a wife who understands why all of this is important to me. I'm very fortunate."

Shaffer also considers himself lucky to have landed a job before graduation with Antietam Health Services at Robinwood Medical Center.

"I can't thank my teachers at Kaplan enough," he said. "They really cared and helped make my dream a reality."

Shaffer was among a fall class of 136 graduates -- 120 of whom participated in Saturday's commencement.

His story of success is typical of most students who attend Kaplan University, said W. Christopher Motz, the school's president.

"We're a career school, so job placement is our primary goal," he said. "We work very hard with individuals and employers to make careers happen."

Motz said Kaplan continues to see enrollment growth and expects to have one of its biggest classes next year.

"A lot of it is the economy, with people returning to school for training and education in a new field," Motz said. "But it's also the bachelor's degree program we now offer. People have a lot more options with us now, a lot more program opportunities. The education they receive at Kaplan is a ticket they can take anywhere."

In addition to Shaffer, Stephanie Bivens of Greencastle, Pa., was a student speaker at commencement.

Bivens said she has worked in the college's business office for 17 years and received her associate degree 15 years ago. On Saturday, she earned her bachelor of science in business administration and hopes to pursue a master's degree.

Angela Booth was the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, given annually to a former student who has used his or her skills to give back to the community.

Booth, who is a business education teacher at Southern Fulton High School in Warfordsburg, Pa., said she was "totally surprised, but very honored" to receive the award.

"This school was a steppingstone, providing me with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful," said Booth, a 1996 graduate. "This place is very special to me."

Shaffer said his phlebotomy certificate is "just a start. I have high expectations for myself."

His goal, he said, is to work in a children's hospital.

"I was there, so I know what those kids are going through," he said. "I want to be the guy with the needle who offers them kindness and helps them through tough times."

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