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‘Proof that molds can be broken’: Retired Army paratrooper graduating from McDaniel College at 40

A 40-year-old McDaniel graduating senior attempted to go to college 20 years ago, but it was a miserable time. After years of military service, Doug Starliper of Westminster, said having a new mission in life made all the difference in the world for his second go-around.

He majored in social work during his three years at McDaniel and will walk across the stage at one of the two commencement ceremonies the college is hosting Saturday.

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The 150th commencement for the class of 2020, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be at 10 a.m. And the 151st commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 will be at 2 p.m. It’s the first time the college is holding its graduation outdoors at Kenneth R. Gill Stadium.

Starliper had a 15-year career as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. During that time, he had four combat deployments. He retired in 2016 and restarted his college career in 2018.

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He said his experience at McDaniel was quick and filled with learning.

“It’s like taking a sip of water from a hose,” he said.

Starliper was a full-time student all three years, even during the pandemic, which he said wasn’t hard to adapt to thanks to his experience in the Army. He already knew how to “roll with the punches,” shift and adapt to all sorts of mayhem.

Another graduate who’ll be attending the Saturday ceremonies is Jamie Wimmer, class of 2020, who now teaches fifth grade at Linton Springs Elementary School in Eldersburg.

She said it was disappointing when the commencement ceremony was canceled last year. But she knew McDaniel would still find a way to celebrate the members of her class, which they did through a virtual setting.

“Now that they have this ceremony, it’s really awesome because lots of schools aren’t doing that,” the 22-year-old said.

Wimmer said when she learned that the the ceremony was rescheduled, she rallied her college friends together and made sure they were also participating.

“Come on, we’re going back regardless of where we are now,” she said she told them. “We have to close this chapter.”

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Starliper’s next chapter includes more schooling. After graduation from McDaniel, he’s headed to graduate school in August at the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore with the goal of being a therapist to help other veterans. He said there are a lot of issues in the veteran community, and many do not want to seek help from people who cannot relate.

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Starliper said later he experienced a lot of what many veterans have experienced after deployments, like PTSD. The people who reached out and helped him when he needed it were the impetus for him pursuing his career path.

“I wanted to be that person,” he said. “So far that’s working out really well even though I haven’t started out in my career field yet.”

Starliper said he posts his college and career journey on social media and fellow veterans reach out to ask about it although there’s a stigma among veterans when it comes to asking for help.

“It lets me know that I made the right choice,” he said about his career and degree path.

When Starliper knew he wanted to pursue social work, he spoke with a professor prior to starting his college career and learned that the degree could lead to unlimited opportunities. He also learned from friends who studied social work at both McDaniel and UMD who said McDaniel’s program prepared them so well, that UMD’s program was easier.

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Starliper said the entirety of his senior year was the most memorable of his McDaniel College experience. It’s when the “rubber met the road” when it comes to applying what he learned. He had a year-long internship at Sober Truth in Taneytown, a nonprofit that addresses drug and alcohol treatment. While there he led small group and individual therapy sessions. He also did behavioral health and drug and alcohol assessments.

Although students ideally go straight from high school to college, Starliper said his 3.88 grade point average is “proof that molds can be broken.”


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