The smile on his face made it hard to tell that, for Cecil Monroe, graduating from Youngstown State University wasn’t an entirely happy occasion.
Monroe, 45, of Youngstown, was among nearly 400 people who received diplomas Saturday morning during summer commencement ceremonies at YSU’s Beeghly Center. His was a bachelor’s degree in religious studies.
And while he said the academic achievement was certainly cause to smile, he said there was also an element of sadness in the day.
“My father passed away in 2011,” said Monroe, a burly, yet soft-spoken man. “We didn’t have a great relationship, but it would have nice to have him around for this.”
Monroe said he spent eight years in the Army after his graduation from high school, and as such, he was among several graduates who sported red, white and blue cords around their necks Saturday. Those special cords, called patriot cords, are worn by military veterans when they graduate.
Like Monroe, Margaret Shonce also got a late start on the college education trail. The 49-year-old mother of four from Girard graduated Saturday with an associate of arts degree, and said she’ll resume classes this week to begin pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.
At nearly 50 years old, Shonce said she realizes that it will be difficult to find a job once she obtains that next degree, but she’s going for it anyway.
“I’ve always wanted a degree, but I did the husband and kids and marriage life instead,” she said shortly before commencement Saturday. She eventually took a job working at General Motors, but when she was laid off, she decided it was time to go to school.
“It was a dream. It was a goal,” she said. “I’ve done it, but I had to fight for this degree through my son’s illness.”
Joyce Kirkpatrick, 57, also of Girard, said she earned an associate’s degree in nursing in 1977, and has put it to use in a nursing career at several area hospitals. She currently works at the Akron Children’s Hospital campus in Boardman, and said the tuition assistance program offered there is what helped sway her back to school.
“I knew I could take my time, I wouldn’t have to hurry to finish,” she said, noting that she enrolled and started taking classes in 2009.
On Saturday, she received her bachelor of nursing degree.
Saturday was the first time new university President Jim Tressel presided over a commencement ceremony. He was also the featured speaker.
Read more about his remarks and the graduates in Sunday's Vindicator or on Vindy.com.