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Four McDaniel graduates ready for next life chapter

Ron Shriver, Cristal Fortino, Becky Putnam and Sara Krome have different interests, passions and life circumstances, but they all recently accomplished the same life goal: completing their undergraduate studies at McDaniel College in Westminster.

The four students walked across the stage in cap and gown Saturday during McDaniel College's 142nd Commencement Ceremony.

Two of them went to college while simultaneously raising their children. One juggled academics with service to the community. Another has had a job lined up after graduation for her entire senior year.

Through busy times, some obstacles and many sacrifices, these recent graduates are sure of one thing: they are happy to have attended McDaniel College and will now embark on new adventures.

Ron Shriver

Twenty-nine-year-old Shriver, an exercise science and physical education major, recalls how difficult it has been this past year to get his children out the door in the morning and arrive at class on time. But now he feels like he's gotten to the top of the mountain.

"This is something that I've always dreamed of doing, graduating college and pursuing higher education," he said.

Shriver and his wife, Jen, were both in the military, but decided years ago that it was time for them to try something new by going to McDaniel College.

"We both decided to move back here close to my family and go to school full-time," he said.

One of the biggest reasons Shriver, a Francis Scott Key High School graduate, returned to Westminster after eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps was the post-9/11 GI Bill, which made it possible for him and his wife to raise their children and attend school.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after Sept. 10, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.

Jen graduated last year and went to Alaska to pursue her master's degree while Ron finished up his last year at McDaniel. He has achieved a 3.5 grade point average and departmental honors, he said.

Shriver said he's made a lot of sacrifices to take care of his children, 5-year-old Miles and 6-year-old Aurora, while also attending classes, participating on the cross country team and both the indoor and outdoor track teams. He also completed a senior capstone project about barefoot running.

His young children don't understand how difficult it's been, Shriver said, but he believes the couple has set a great example for their son and daughter.

"For my wife and me, it was more about setting a standard for our kids to follow," he said. "In the future, they'll look back and say, well, if Mom and Dad could do this and make it work, we can do it, too."

Now Shriver is preparing to move his children to Juneau, Alaska, so the family can be reunited.

"I'm excited to see my wife," he said. "We're starting the next chapter in our lives."

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Cristal Fortino

This Manchester wife and mother-of-two decided to look into going back to college after her husband lost his job in 2008, she said. Until she went to McDaniel, the 39-year-old was a stay-at-home mother.

It's something Fortino always wanted to do, as a way to set an example for her children, since she always stresses the importance of education. When she was younger, Fortino went to York College of Pennsylvania, but didn't complete her degree. After that, she earned her associate degree at Carroll Community College, but didn't transfer to a school to earn her bachelor's degree.

"It was always my goal to go back, when my kids got older," she said. "I knew I needed to go back to work to support the family."

Her husband, who is in land acquisition and development management, found a job after his first layoff, but was laid off again in 2011. Fortino said the family was blessed that he has found another job, since she has not yet sought full-time employment.

Fortino graduated from McDaniel in December as a sociology major with a 3.92 GPA but participated in commencement Saturday. She is currently pursuing the remainder of her Human Resources Development graduate degree, which she began as an undergraduate, and working as a graduate assistant.

When she decided in 2010 to go back to school, she struggled with whether to go to McDaniel or a cheaper but larger public school. Now she's glad she opted for the small-school experience.

"I wouldn't have been able to excel the way I have at a larger school," Fortino said.

When she previously attended college, she used a typewriter and researched by looking through book indexes. When she began her studies at McDaniel, she had to learn a lot about computers and databases, which Fortino said was well worth it.

"It was education for me, but now I can also help my kids," she said.

She at first felt guilty for leaving her children to attend school, but feels confident it was the right decision. For other mothers who are debating whether to go back to school, her advice is to go for it.

Her family made sacrifices but she feels she was a great role model for her teenagers.

"If it's truly something you want, you will make it happen and your family can help just like mine did," she said. "I say, 'If Mom can do it, you can do it.'"

Becky Putnam

For this computer science major, attending the small liberal arts college gave her the opportunity to pursue big adventures.

Putnam, a 21-year-old from Mount Airy, has been on a scuba diving trip to Mexico and spent the first semester of her senior year in Budapest, Hungary, she said.

She stayed busy on campus, serving as a tour guide, a peer mentor and co-president of the outdoors club. Her experiences have helped her mature and meet people all over the world, she said.

"Don't sit in your room and expect the school to entertain you," is advice Putnam gives to students.

Putnam had an internship last summer with Raytheon Co., a government contractor, and they offered her a position as a software engineer.

"Now I have a job waiting for me after graduation," she said. "It was nice knowing I had that."

She enjoyed her time in college and said the experience is what you make it. Putnam tells students who are looking at colleges to not listen to what anyone else says and go where they want to go.

"Ultimately, it's your decision and you should be happy with where you go," she said. "It's been a blast, but I'm definitely ready to move on."

Sara Krome

A major part of Krome's experiences at McDaniel College involve volunteering in the community.

The 22-year-old English major from Union Bridge was heavily involved with the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, an organization in which she served as president. She was involved in projects such as the Westminster clean-up and helping out at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster.

Through a class on writing for nonprofit organizations, Krome helped teach social media workshops to local nonprofits. Because of that, she and two other students were awarded the 2010 Griswold-Zepp Award in volunteerism.

On Friday evening, Krome was awarded the Mary Ward Lewis Prize at Baccalaureate. This is awarded annually to the most outstanding woman of the graduating class.

Krome now plans to attend Towson University to pursue her master's in professional writing. She will work this summer at McDaniel College as the Assistant Administrative Director of the Student Academic Achievement Program for District of Columbia students, Krome said.

Her wide array of experiences at McDaniel have given her confidence. She wants people to know that it's important to try new things and be open-minded.

"Put yourself out there and don't be afraid to ask questions," she said. "That's how you connect with people."

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