Kaplan graduating class is twice the typical size

  • Tamara Gregg of Needmore, Pa., smiles in surprise after a faculty member snaps a photo Saturday before Kaplan University commencement ceremonies at North Hagerstown High School.
Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

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    HAGERSTOWN -- If you had told Charles Rickard's parents 12 years ago that their son one day would walk across the stage to receive his college degree, they wouldn't have believed it.

    That's what Rickard, 30, of Waynesboro, Pa., said Saturday morning during his Kaplan University commencement address to a crowd of around 1,200 at the North Hagerstown High School auditorium. In the moments to follow, he was awarded his associate of applied science degree in computer forensics with high honors.

    "It's not that (my parents) didn't believe in their son," Rickard said. "It's just that when I was in high school, I took the self-destructive path of assuming I knew everything. In my arrogance, I dropped out of school as soon as I turned 18."

    Rickard said in order to withdraw from Waynesboro Area Senior High School, he was required to get each of his teachers' signatures. Most told him it was "a waste" to give up so close to graduation, but they went ahead and signed the form anyway. One went a bit farther.


"One teacher named Miss Hawkins wouldn't sign the form unless I promised her I would get my GED (General Equivalency Diploma)," Rickard said. "So I said I would."

Rickard found work painting children's furniture. In 2001, when his wife, Mari, became pregnant, he realized he needed to increase his income. He "started to hear echoes" of the promise he'd made to Miss Hawkins, so he took the test and got his GED. Still, he was unable to find work earning much more than he had been.

Two years later, Rickard was hired at the Target Distribution Center. He become a trainer there, but was told he could not advance any further without a degree. Meanwhile, he and Mari had two more children. That's when Rickard decided to enroll at Kaplan. He continued working full time while he took classes and completed an externship at Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital.

"I was afraid of the change and the challenges and the expense," he said. "The journey has not been quick and easy."

But it has been rewarding. As a result of his externship, Rickard landed a permanent job in information services at the hospital. He has increased his annual income by about $10,000 and discovered a love of learning. Now, Rickard is enrolled in the bachelor of information technology program at Kaplan, and hopes to go on to earn a master's degree.

"I am ecstatic," he said.

Rickard was among 265 members of the spring graduating class of 2010. W. Christopher Motz, president of Kaplan University's Hagerstown campus, said that was nearly twice the typical number of graduates. He attributed the large class size in part to the institution's July 2009 change from Hagerstown Business College to become an accredited Kaplan campus. He said the stagnated economic environment also is a factor.

"People are coming back to school, learning useful skills and getting a new lease on life," Motz said.

The large class was an especially spirited one. Kaplan staff member Sonya Pryor usually sings at the college's commencement programs. Saturday, as she sang "What a Feeling," graduates rose to their feet, clapping and dancing. Seconds later, faculty on the stage joined in, dancing in their academic regalia.

"That's the first time that's ever happened," Motz said. "That was pretty fun."

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