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McDaniel students take different paths to the graduation stage

McDaniel's seniors took different paths on their way to graduating Saturday. Here are a few of their stories:

Casey Roberds

Casey Roberds' career plans have changed drastically since she enrolled in McDaniel College. A graduate of Winters Mill High School, Roberds began her college career studying art and art history, with the plan of becoming a teacher. Her sophomore year, though, her career path took a surprising turn.

While working on a school fundraiser, Roberds was doing temporary Sharpie tattoos on students. She started to receive praise for her artistic abilities, particularly her ability to draw well on the curved surface of skin, and soon, people were recommending she consider becoming an actual tattoo artist.

"At that point, I had one or two tattoos already," Roberds said. "But there was a lot going against me. I was a girl, and I was really young, and that's not what they were looking for. I've got long blonde hair and I'm five foot, and that's not what people think of when they think of their tattoo artists."

Soon, Roberds decided to give tattooing a shot. She went to Matthew Aversa, of Matteo Ink in Westminster, to discuss beginning a tattoo apprenticeship.

"He told me, 'Why don't you show me that you want this job?'" Roberds said. "I didn't know what that meant, so I just showed up at the shop every day and sat and watched him."

Soon, her persistence paid off, and she was able to begin apprenticing between classes at McDaniel.

"It's the hardest experience you can imagine. You go in and you're kind of the slave of the shop for six months," Roberds said. "You restock paper towels, answer phones and learn how to clean and sterilize the needles. They're teaching you about customer service and how to carry on the business before approaching the artistic side."

Eventually Roberds graduated to drawing tattoos on oranges, grapefruits and artificial skin. She said it's important to learn how to draw around curves on a unique canvas.

"You have to practice until they feel you are ready, and then you get to tattoo your first person. You either have to tattoo yourself or a very trusting friend," Roberds said. "The client's nervous, and I'm nervous, but the artist walks me through every line. When you're drawing on people permanently, you have a round surface that moves and screams. You've got to get used to the movement, particularly if you're doing painful places like the ribs and feet."

After finishing her first tattoo on a friend, Roberds had to complete 99 more gratis tattoos before she was able to start charging for her work. Roberds completed many of her tattoos for her mother and aunt, with her mom coming in nearly every week for new ink.

Though she is going into a non-traditional career path for a college graduate, Roberds said her education at McDaniel was invaluable for her development.

"You definitely have to be an artist first and foremost. People come in with art they already have or ideas they can't put on paper, and you have to be able to change the design to fit what would look right on their body," Roberds said. "In terms of art, we have to be able to work right to left and upside down some of the time. You're working with a needle that's 13.2 ounces, and that's 13 times more than you're used to with a pencil, and you have to keep a 45 degree angle at all times."

Roberds said even her background in art history has been a boon to her skills as a tattoo artist.

"I can apply things I've learned in my East Asian art class. I've gotten to know Chinese versus Japanese images, so if people come in with specific works of art or specific characters, it's useful to have that art history degree," Roberds said. "I changed as an artist thanks to McDaniel. I can think about art in new ways now, approaching ideas of color contrasts and values that come into play with these designs."

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Kyla Greenhorn and Rebecca Wilson

Throughout the McDaniel campus, students are familiar with McDaniel Compliments, a Facebook page designed for people to anonymously submit compliments for their fellow classmates. Until recently, though, they did not know the faces behind the program.

For the past year, Kyla Greenhorn, of Hagerstown, and Rebecca Wilson, of Frederick, have managed the page, moderating comments and creating content. They kept their association with the site a secret until just before graduation. Greenhorn, a theater arts and religious studies major, said the idea for the site came from a desire to establish a positive program at the school.

"At first it was just about the compliments, but then it became about much more with the student body," Greenhorn said. "I think in many ways, it brought the college community together. You can really see the sense that people are beginning to be more aware of their presence together. We started to get well-wishes and prayers. It really began to branch out and become its own thing."

Greenhorn attended several schools before landing at McDaniel, including Farrem College and Hagerstown Community College. She said her experiences before her senior year prepared her for running the site.

"I was in a horseback riding accident my senior year of high school, and I had back surgery in 2011 and was bedridden for six weeks," Greenhorn. "I had my computer, and I started fiddling around with YouTube and Facebook and trying to figure out Twitter. I started figuring out what the best times were to post things and what gets people to notice more often."

Greenhorn originally intended to run the site herself, but just as Robin joined the dynamic duo by figuring out Batman's secret identity, Wilson broke the code of McDaniel Compliments and found herself as a co-executive of the site.

"I saw Kyla walking around campus acting a little strange, and some of the posts seemed like something she would say," Wilson said. "So I kept cornering her and badgering her about it, and she eventually asked if I wanted to join the team."

Wilson is an English major who attended Francis Scott Key High School before coming to McDaniel. She said the experience of working on McDaniel Compliments has prepared her for her upcoming job running external marketing for Sykesville Veterinary Clinic.

"It's taught me to stay professional and be friendly to viewers," Wilson said. "I've taken social media classes, but I think McDaniel Compliments gave me the hands-on experience I needed. It was almost like an internship to build my skills."

Now that Greenhorn and Wilson are graduating, they have tapped two anonymous juniors to take over the site for next year. Greenhorn said the site is practically self-sustaining, and she sees it becoming a permanent part of the McDaniel experience.

Tom Cartaxo

Sometimes it is not a specific course of action taken in school that leads to life's direction, according to Tom Cartaxo, a philosophies and religious studies major, but the sum total of the college experience.

Cartaxo will be heading to Albania next March with the Peace Corps to teach English as a secondary language.

"I graduated from Liberty High School and went straight to McDaniel," Cartaxo said. "After three years, I had no real kind of plan for after school, so I took some time off and worked a pretty diverse range of fields."

Cartaxo said during his time off, he took jobs driving a forklift, working in an art gallery and volunteering in a hospital.

"I was driving to work at a factory job I had, and I heard a plug on NPR for a nonprofit in D.C. that sounded interesting," Cartaxo said. "I started teaching adult immigrants to speak English, and it was one of the most interesting things I had ever done. I didn't have any experience with anything like that."

Combining that experience with time he spent studying abroad in Hungary, Cartaxo said he realized his passion for travel and service. He began looking into opportunities in the Peace Corps.

"One of the big focuses for this kind of teaching is that it's immersion-based. My Spanish is incredibly limited, but in the class, we speak English all the time," Cartaxo said. "One of the advantages of going with the Peace Corps is we work for three months in language training before getting on site."

Cartaxo said it was a combination of experiences throughout his entire college career that led to his future plans.

"I think the liberal art school experience isn't for everyone depending on what their plans are," Cartaxo said. "It provided me with a well-rounded exposure to a lot of different things. If I had gone somewhere else, I probably would have ended up more focused in a narrow experience. Thanks to McDaniel, I've got a more broad skill set and interest. It definitely had a huge influence."

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