- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Michael Todd and Elizabeth Maldonado didn’t see each other all that often the past few years at the University of Mary Washington.

The Stafford County father had classes at one end of the campus; his daughter’s were at the other.

He, a physical geography major, did his studying at home in the evening. She, a studio arts major, found spots to study at school during the day.

But at UMW graduation ceremony on May 7, the pair of proud graduates knew exactly where to find each other: he with the crowd getting degrees in liberal studies, she with those awarded bachelors of arts.

The pair joined 1,200 other graduates in ceremonies on May 6 and May 7, both those receiving graduate and undergraduate degrees getting emotional, heartfelt send-offs from UMW president Rick Hurley, who retires in June.

He told the undergrads on May 7 that this year’s ceremony was bittersweet.

“I, like you, will soon be leaving this wonderful place that we have come to know and love,” said Hurley to a crowd of some 5,000 graduates, family and friends thrilled to draw a rain-free morning after a soggy week.

He told the undergrads that while most of them had spent four years at UMW, his retirement marks the end of his 16 years at the school, six as president.

“So, if you take your emotions today and quadruple them, you’ll have some idea how I feel at this moment,” said Hurley, fighting back emotion at times.

The president, credited by many with putting UMW back on a stable path after two troubled administrators before him, then repeated a story many of the students had heard before.

He detailed how growing up in a blue-collar family never put college on his radar, at least not until first working at an industrial plant, serving in the Vietnam War and taking a job as a gas station attendant on the New Jersey turnpike.

The man who’ll get the title “president emeritus” upon retiring challenged graduates to take advantages of opportunities, to solve problems instead of ignoring them and to “be decisive, but not impulsive.”

Hurley pointed out that while these students live in a world where there’s certainly no shortage of information, knowledge and expertise, it’s one where there will be a need for people who can “apply that knowledge and that expertise constructively_and, indeed, compassionately.

Noting that there will be engineers aplenty to construct magnificent buildings, he asked “Who will be concerned about the resulted impact on the environment?”

Where technicians will make possible production of ever more goods, Hurley asked, “Who will be concerned about the just distribution of those goods_about the alleviation of hunger and poverty?”

He concluded those and other similar questions by adding, “As beneficiaries of a broad liberal education, you are uniquely equipped to do so.”

Todd, Maldonado and the other graduates cheered the president’s message, took the long walk to get their degrees and then joined their families for a post-ceremony celebration.

Todd, who said he’s considered himself Maldonado’s father since marrying her mother, Theresa, when Elizabeth was 5, noted that he joined the Marines at 17 with the intent of getting an education in the process.

“War came first and somehow, there was never time for that education,” he said, noting that he decided several years back that he would go back and get a degree.

The Stafford pair both did their first two years at community colleges_him at NOVA, her at Germanna_and then decided to enter UMW together in 2014.

Said Elizabeth, “My mother pushed us both and helped us get to graduation. She was super important in us getting this done.”

As for what’s next, Todd said he’ll be looking for a job, as will Maldonado, who will be doing that in Blacksburg where she’ll join her husband, who’s a pre-med student at Virginia Tech.

One highlight at ceremonies on May 7: highly decorated tops to the mortarboard hats, everything from flowers to stickers to plastic figures.

Though some decorating of the hats happened in earlier years, this was the first where that hat accessorizing was officially permitted, and many went all out to customize.

___

Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/

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