Nine years ago, Joseph Lambrecht's supervisor recommended that he take a course or two at Howard Community College to brush up on business management strategies.
He took that advice and ran with it.
Yesterday, Lambrecht, 71 and retired, accepted an associate's degree in business management alongside about 300 of his fellow graduates at the school's commencement ceremony at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Lambrecht, of Columbia, enrolled at the two-year college after being promoted to assistant shop foreman at Academy Ford Sales in Laurel. After retirement, he continued taking about one class each semester toward a degree, figuring he "might as well finish the rest of it."
Asked what he plans to do with his degree, Lambrecht said, "nothing, really." To keep himself busy, he wants to take more classes in tax accounting, computers, history or art history.
During the ceremony, Lambrecht said he felt himself "welling up" as he listened to the state and local officials, administrators and students address the graduating class.
"It kind of got to me," Lambrecht said. "I don't think it's caught up with me yet. I guess when they mail me the diploma I'll know for sure.
Lambrecht's wife, Frances, will join her husband as a community college graduate May 30. A 4.0 student, she will receive a degree from the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and transfer to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to study political science.
Yet another Howard Community College graduate, Michelle Catania of Columbia, looked out over the crowd of hundreds yesterday at Merriweather Post Pavilion and recognized nearly everyone who was sporting the same cap and gown she was.
And she should. Over the course of her two years at the school, Catania has worked in nearly every campus department and knows most faculty and staff members by name.
"There's about five people in the audience who don't know who I am today, and I'm going to give a shout out to them," Catania said minutes before she took the stage as one of two student commencement speakers.
Catania, the first in her family to attend college, accepted degrees in music and liberal arts.
Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive officer of the Washington Post Co., addressed the graduates, telling the story of Samuel Johnson, an 18th-century writer credited with compiling the first dictionary of the English language.
Graham used Johnson as an example of someone who accepted his weaknesses and imperfections and did not view them as limitations.
"The most productive writer of our time went to his grave ... the same mess of frailties we all are," Graham said.
Graduates, he added, have the power to control the "important things" - honesty, trustworthiness and a sense of responsibility, and not let their shortcomings stand in their way.
If graduates uphold their honor and integrity, Graham said, "the rest will take care of itself."
Leola M. Dorsey and Celonia B. Walden, former trustees and longtime commencement attendees, received honorary degrees, the first the college has awarded, for their service to the school and the community.
Several Distinguished Alumni chosen for their achievements during and after their time at the school and to celebrate the college's 30th anniversary also were honored during the ceremony.
One recognized was Sharon Strobel of the Class of 1982, who went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from UMBC and the University of Maryland, Baltimore and works as a clinical nurse specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her education at Howard Community College "broadened my horizons," she said.
"They encouraged me to go on and use HCC as a steppingstone," Strobel said.
Several speakers pointed out that the graduates often juggle numerous responsibilities, including single parenthood, full-time jobs and other demanding personal schedules, while pursuing an education.
En route to her two degrees, Catania worked as many as 50 hours a week at campus offices, took 21 credits each semester, and still had time to volunteer for the Special Olympics, participate in theatrical productions and serve as president of Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
"There's no time to work, there's no time to sleep, there's no time to study," said Catania, who will study communications and opera at the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall. "It's hard to remember at the end of the day, 'Why am I doing this?'
"But it's all paying off."