By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Carianne Schmidt lost her father to cancer nine years ago.
Schmidt decided she wanted to help people fighting the disease and started taking nursing classes at Lord Fairfax Community College about six years ago. Schmidt realized part of that dream Saturday and joined more than 900 other students as graduates of the Class of 2012.
After the commencement ceremony held at Skyline High School in Warren County, Schmidt said she felt "fantastic." Like many of the graduates Schmidt had family in the audience, including her husband, Jordan Schmidt, and sons, Parker, 3, and Jonah, 6 weeks. Her mother, Darlene Sarver, traveled from Buffalo, N.Y.
"We're proud of her," Sarver said.
"It's been a long road and I just had a baby six weeks ago," Schmidt said, noting she was pregnant through most of her last year of school.
Schmidt, of Hamilton, currently works as a nursing assistant at Winchester Medical Center and now has an associates degree of science in nursing. Once Schmidt takes her national board exam in June she can become a registered nurse, part of fulfilling her goal of helping people fighting cancer.
"When other families get the news that their loved one have that awful disease she helps them," Sarver said. "She talks to them. She wants to go into oncology and she wants to help other families go through what we've gone through."
Hundreds of other graduates also finished that first step toward their higher education or career goals as the class of 2012. LFCC graduated 940 students -- the largest class in the college's history, according to LFCC President Cheryl Thompson-Stacy. The class also included the first graduates of LFCC's middle college program offered to students 18-24 who wish to earn their GED in two semesters. Graduates received a career-readiness certificate and community college credit.
Thompson-Stacy introduced the graduating class to the audience of their friends, family and fellow students.
"As you know commencement exercises are held to recognize the successful conclusion of hundreds, if not thousands of hours of hard work, sacrifice, dedication and effort from students as well as college personnel -- the event that gives us our greatest satisfaction and our greatest pride," Thomson-Stacy said.
LFCC chose one of their own to speak for the class -- Cecilia "Ceci" Galvin, a 20-year-old graduate of the Fauquier Campus with an associate's degree in liberal arts. Galvin, a member of the Dean's list, the President's list and Phi Theta Kappa honor society, plans to major in English at the College of William and Mary.
Galvin spoke about the decision to pursue an English major and the unlikely friendships she made among her fellow students.
"After spending so much time at LFCC I learned that birds of a feather do not flock together, at least not in the way I had interpreted it before."
"There are so many people here today with so many great things ahead for them," she added. "There are so many differences which have, believe it or not, bound us together."
"But whether or not we had it easy -- and some of us have not -- our experiences with these amazing differences have made us who we are today," Galvin said.
After the ceremony graduates filed out of the gymnasium, greeted with hugs, flowers and balloons from friends and family members.
Britni Finley, of Winchester, said she felt "accomplished" as a graduate and "ready to take another step in life." Finley, joined at the ceremony by her sons, Braylon Buchanan, 2 1/2, and B.J., 8, as well as nieces and parents, said she plans to continue taking classes at LFCC and a business education program through Old Dominion University.
"It took longer than I expected but I have kids and work," Finley said, adding that she's marrying her fiance, Bryant Buchanan, in July.
While LFCC graduated its largest class, Shenandoah University boasted the same feat. The university's class of 2012 totaled 1,227 students, which graduates who achieved diplomas last August, December and this spring.
Poet, activist, children's author and educator, Nikki Giovanni, spoke at the university commencement and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.