By BOB JACKSON
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 been 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.
After his honorable discharge from the Army, Monroe started a career in loss prevention. Eventually, he felt another call upon his life, and so embarked upon becoming a minister. For the past five years, he has been pastor of the Higher Learning Church in Austintown.
“But I decided that I didn’t want to live my life without a [college] degree, so I started the process of closing in on it,” he said. That’s when he enrolled at YSU, and said the education and training he received there will now help him broaden his ministry.
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.”
She said one of her sons was diagnosed with a benign cancer for which he’s going through chemotherapy. She and her husband, Deric, have four children, from age 14 to 26.
She hopes to ultimately use her bachelor’s degree to land a job in a management capacity.
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.
Kirkpatrick, a mother of four children whose ages range from 23 to 31, said she’s not sure what she’ll do with her degree, but she enjoyed the path toward getting it.
“It was exciting,” she said. “I found it a good experience.” Her husband, Bob, was supportive of her efforts.
Saturday was the first time new university President Jim Tressel presided over a commencement ceremony. He was also the featured speaker, and encouraged the graduates to connect with those in the world they are about to enter, to always be curious and continue learning, and to be confident in all their endeavors.
“There will be moments in your life when that little seed of doubt or wonder will creep in,” Tressel said. “But when that happens, know that you are ready and you are prepared. That’s why you’re receiving your degree today.”
Tressel also quoted a poem by Edward Everett Hale that he said his football teams at YSU and the Ohio State University used to recite together before taking the field.
“I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. And what I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I shall do.”