Nearly 2,000 students received their degrees in graduation ceremonies at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) last Friday evening in front of delighted families and friends on the terrace of the Annandale campus.
"It is most rewarding to stand here and see the large number of students who . . . are to be awarded their degrees," said commencement speaker Earle C. Williams, president of BDM International. "For some, the achievement was easy. For others, it was not so easy. For all, it was a matter of perseverance and dedication."
But only elation -- and occasional nervousness -- showed in the faces of the graduating class, which included more older and ethnic students than might be found in the average American college graduating class. Under drifting clouds, in a mild summer breeze, they awaited their turns on stage.
The graduates filed in to the band's renditions of Gustav Holst's "First Suite in E Flat" and Sousa's "On the Mall." Their black gowns were brightened by chevrons of yellow and green, the school colors, which were repeated in the flowers that decorated the podium. Some graduates wore yellow tassels around their necks, signifying membership in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
Honor students were plentiful at the 19th commencement ceremonies for NOVA. There were 284 students graduating summa cum laude and 650 who graduated magna cum laude.
But every graduate had cause to be proud of completing his studies in one or more of NOVA's 94 departments, 61 of whom awarded associate in science and nine associate in arts degrees. Another 24 departments gave their graduates certificates in such job-oriented programs as air conditioning, automotive machinist, dental assistant, hotel and restaurant management and welding.
Before stepping down from the stage, Robert Pearson brandished his dual diplomas in a Rocky Balboa gesture of triumph. Twenty-one-year-old dental hygiene graduate Pam Batistas' decorum vanished amid cheers from the audience.
Police science graduates presented some formidable-looking examples, built, perhaps, to dissuade traffic ticket arguments. Graduates in physical therapy also received boisterous applause.
Crowd control at the end of the formal program was the most difficult part of the ceremonies. As cameras flashed from all sides, bushes were trampled and boundary markers knocked aside. Faculty and student ushers' attempts to restore order were in vain.
Humanities Chairman Dr. Eltse Carter said, "Everybody's having such a good time, you don't want to order them around."
But student usher Robin Cashion relished the job, declaring: "This is the most fun anyway, doing the ushering. I don't want to graduate."
For many of Friday's graduates, degrees brought not only a sense of accomplishment, but one of belonging. Graduates with such culturally diverse names as Mahboob, Ai-Lan, Ayala, Mustafa, Hung Nghia and Alvarado were united in their feeling of accomplishment.
NOVA's minority enrollment has increased significantly in the last five years. In 1980, 4 percent of the students were Asian, 8 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic. In 1985, 7 percent were Asian, 8 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic.
Asian immigrants comprised almost 10 percent of this year's graduates. Some, such as Vietnamese engineering graduate Ahn Mai, had juggled busy study schedules with part-time jobs.
"It's a little bit hard," admitted Mai, 27, a ladies' wear sales clerk at K Mart in Annandale. "But I'm happy."
Despite the grueling schedule, Mai plans to continue her studies at George Washington University in the fall.
"This is very important for these people," Dr. Carter said of her graduating class. "Some of them never expected to go to college, let alone graduate, and they get very emotional."
Emotions ran still higher after all the diplomas had been awarded, even if they were only symbolic pieces of paper -- the official documents are mailed later. College president Richard J. Ernst gave the departing students an approving smile as he announced: "You have my best wishes for the future. Graduates, reverse your tassels."
For nurse Terrilee Murawski, 22, this ceremonial act was the easiest part of her college career.
"I feel enchanted," she declared.