Online College Students Participate in Graduation Ceremony

Rosie Villa gets her cap adjusted before receiving her degree at her graduation on July 8.

One of the happiest days of a college student’s life is graduation. But what’s graduation like for students who went to school online? For many distance learners their colleges are hundreds of miles away, which makes it that much more complicated to attend graduation. Does that mean students who’ve completed degrees online should not get the chance to go through a graduation ceremony?

To answer that, meet three graduates of Excelsior College, all of whom completed their degrees online. On July 8th they all plan to attend formal graduation to accept their degrees.

Here’s why…

A Nurse Goes the Distance

Carissa Westring had to leave community college the first time because of family obligations (which, over time, involved marriage, divorce, supporting her family, remarriage, and raising five kids). At age 29 she enrolled in online college and by age 40, she’d earned both her AS and BS degrees in nursing.

“I wanted to have that BS done in two years, but life happens,” she says pragmatically.

So why did she continue college in the wake of family chaos?

“In addition to reaching my goals,” she reflects, “I wanted to provide a better life for my kids and set an example. College was never mentioned in my house when I was little. But my kids see that all my studying and hard work pay off, and as a result now they want to go to college.”

For Ms. Westring a little thing like distance is not going to deny her the reward of a graduation, even though she lives in Minnesota, and her graduation ceremony is in Albany, NY. She and her husband will fly out for it.

“I can’t miss this,” she says, “in the past 10 years, no matter how hard life got, there was never a time I wasn’t working on getting my degree.”

Unlike kids who continue their formal education right after high school, adult online learners have a more serious perspective on life. So is a college graduation ceremony really that important after earning a degree online?

“Probably even more so,” says Dr. Scott Dalrymple, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Excelsior. “These grads have conquered incredible obstacles to finish their educations; cancer, family deaths, divorce, job layoffs, even military soldiers doing homework while under fire in Afghanistan. You can’t help but feel proud of what they’ve achieved in spite of everything they’ve been through.”

A Foreign Student Loses Her College Credits

Rosie Villa, 44, will also be attending her graduation, after completing a BS in Liberal Studies online. Juggling family (two daughters) and two jobs, Rosie often found herself doing homework in the middle of the night. “Education has always been important to me. Even though it was hard sometimes, I remained persistent and dedicated to my goal of finishing college.”

Rosie grew up in Columbia, and got a scholarship to attend Kiev University in the Ukraine, where she met and married her husband. She studied Russian and International Studies for four years, but before she could finish her degree the disaster at Chernobyl and the escalating war in the Persian Gulf forced her and her husband to flee the country. Eventually immigrating to the U.S. Rosie found that most of her college credit did not transfer. Having to work to help support her family (including an ailing mother), online college was her only option. Now five years after she started working on her degree she’s looking forward to receiving her diploma at her formal graduation.

“My desire to finish college is bigger than anything I’ve ever wanted,” she says proudly. “And I wanted to reach that goal with good grades, which I have. That means everything to me.”

Rosie now has a career as a crime victim specialist for investigations at the New York State Office of Victim Services, and she is preparing to pursue her master’s degree online.

A Young Man Gives Back

But not everyone who attends online college waits decades to do it. Twenty-six-year-old Brandon Pervis has completed his MS degree online in nursing education, and plans to attend his graduation ceremony, as well. Even though he’s younger, Brandon has also had to find time to fit in work, family (he has a one-year-old son) and school, and sometimes it hasn’t been easy.

“I was lucky,” he recalls, “I have a supportive family and friends, and I had teachers who were understanding when things got tough.”

While earning his degree Brandon worked as an RN at the Fairhaven Community Health Center, a clinic that serves uninsured and underinsured patients. But now with his MS he plans to move into nursing education where he can reach more people.

“Everyone I help from here on out will benefit from everyone who helped me reach my goal,” he says humbly. “Getting my degrees allows me to give back in ways I couldn’t have done without it.”

Three people from different parts of the world, yet they will all come together on July 8th in Albany, NY, to celebrate a common milestone. Earning a college degree, online or otherwise, is a big deal. As Dr. Dalrymple points out “receiving your degree at 22 is all about promise, but receiving your degree any time after that is about accomplishment.” That’s definitely worth getting up on a stage and letting the world take a moment to say to you, “Well done.”

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