By Linwood Outlaw III -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- For Marsha Himelright, Lord Fairfax Community College's 39th graduation ceremony on Saturday afternoon culminated a prolonged and demanding 17-year journey.
After finishing high school in 1993, Himelright, 34, of Stephens City, enrolled at LFCC later that year. However, she said she ended up taking "a very extended break" from the classroom. Over the years, Himelright got married and had three daughters, but she still wanted to pursue higher education.
Himelright finally made it back to LFCC in 2008.
"We had to make a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to take classes in the evenings, but it was exciting," Himelright said after receiving her associate degree in liberal arts on Saturday.
Himelright had "17-year journey" inscribed on her graduation cap, along with the names of her husband, children and others who supported her along the way. Himelright wants to continue her education at Old Dominion University and hopes to one day earn a bachelor's degree.
In addition to her academic and career goals, she resumed her studies at LFCC to set a better example for her kids.
"A lot of it was to prove to my children that it is a lot easier to go to college [directly] after high school," Himelright said. "But, also, [I wanted] to show them that it can be done and that education is very important, and no one can ever take your knowledge or your education away from you."
Himelright was among 788 students from LFCC's Fauquier and Middletown campuses who donned blue caps and gowns and proudly marched onto the football field at Skyline High School on Saturday to get their degrees. Family and friends filled the bleachers of the stadium and cheered the graduates on. Some used umbrellas to block out the beaming sun that made it a perfect day to hold the ceremony outdoors.
"As you know, commencement exercises are held to recognize the successful conclusion of hundreds, and maybe thousands, of hours of hard work, sacrifice, dedication and effort from students," LFCC President Cheryl Thompson-Stacy told the Class of 2010. "This is our favorite day of the year."
Honors program scholars Johanna Hribal and Sarah Carpenter received Outstanding Graduate awards from the Fauquier and Middletown campuses, respectively. Hribal, who earned an associate degree in education, graduated with a 3.8 grade point average. Carpenter, who received an associate degree in business administration, finished with a 3.9 GPA.
Graduates were encouraged to take a deep breath and approach their future endeavors with optimism.
"It is time to stop and take it all in, to celebrate how far we have come," Whitney Nelsen, 21, who earned an associate degree in general studies, told her peers before introducing the commencement speaker, Ross L. Buckles.
Buckles, 25, of Culpeper County, who also graduated with an associate degree in liberal arts, initially entered college right after high school, but decided to discontinue his education and accept an enticing job offer.
"Eight years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be given the honor of standing here [as commencement speaker] today," Buckles said. "Although I always knew deep down inside that I had the potential to go far ... I can honestly say that I never truly applied myself [at times]. Upon graduating from high school, I was fortunate enough to find a decent job where I would work for the next five years. Although I was doing pretty well financially, I would often wonder to myself, 'Where will I be ten years from now?' After analyzing this question many times, I determined that I wanted to take my life in a new direction."
Buckles said he was nervous when he first went back to school, but quickly realized he had made the right decision. He plans to pursue a law degree. "Today, we can all say, with pride, that we have successfully completed the required amount of college courses needed to obtain an associate's degree, an achievement that many individuals may never know," Buckles told his peers. "Whether we are the fifth member of our family to attend college or the first, [it] does not matter. What matters is whether or not we are capable of instilling the drive to succeed in others."