Mike Rosolio didn't know he couldn't sell back his Italian textbook.
Kent Buchanan didn't know that the hotels would be overbooked and that his parents and two brothers would end up penned like cattle in his apartment. Khari Parker didn't have any idea what type of job he would land after graduation, or even if he had passed his classes. And Meredith Talbott didn't realize everything would go by so fast.
There were many things that the members of this year's graduating class at the University of Maryland at College Park said they didn't know -- which friends they would keep in touch with, what they would do with their lives, when it would all "sink in," which side to hang the tassel on. But they understood it was about time to move on.
"Got to get out of Dodge," said Justyn Kopack, 22, a journalism major from Annapolis.
On a muggy and overcast graduation day yesterday, seniors moved about a largely deserted campus, picking up caps and gowns, attending receptions, showing their parents the cicadas on the campus mall. More than 6,000 students applied for degrees from the university this year, including 4,315 undergraduates. Graduation day, the 234th in the university's history, stirred up a different mix of emotions for each.
For Parker, it was "stressful, to say the least." Gown in hand, he was on his way to the gym to "ease his mind" before his family from Baltimore arrived for his Engineering Department graduation ceremony. Then he would get his hair cut and spend a few minutes trading stocks on the Internet, and then maybe he would meet up with some friends. It took six years, but now he's the first male from his family to graduate from college, something he has aspired to his whole life.
"It's exciting, but also one of those times when I don't know what I'm going to do now," he said. "But I have a college degree. A college degree. Even if I'm sitting in my parents' basement, I have a college degree. That's powerful."
Outside the Comcast Center, waiting for the university-wide commencement to begin, graduates tailgated in the parking lot with their families and friends. Some drank beer and tossed a football, while others ate strawberries and sipped champagne from plastic cups. From one circle of folding chairs a toast went up:
"To our final moments," someone said, and everyone laughed.
Inside, amid the sparkle of flashing cameras, the graduates entered the vast arena in four rows, led by commencement student speaker Christine Smit. Smiling and sometimes letting out a nervous laugh, the students waved as parents shouted their children's names and held up banners of congratulations. Several graduates taped commentary to their caps. "Go Terps" sat near "Stop Bush."
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge delivered the commencement address before a crowd of more than 8,000 that filled the bleachers on three sides. Ridge described the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the response of the Bush administration. He said the country is "resolved and resilient and unrelenting when it comes to the security of our people."
"To terrorists, we send a message, sure and clear: We will meet your threats, in the fullest throttle of response, wherever you seek to hide," Ridge said.
He also urged the graduates to pursue "work worth doing," to serve "a cause greater than self, no matter what your chosen field of endeavor."
"The prize is not setting yourself apart, through celebrity and fame, but rather in holding your communities, your country, your world together, particularly when it needs you most," Ridge said.
One of the graduates, Amanda Gassman of Baltimore, planned to waste no time putting in her service. She is one of five students from the campus organization Engineers Without Borders who will volunteer on a water sanitation project in northern Thailand after graduation.
Gassman, 21, a civil engineer, said she wanted to put her education to use for a "global good."
"I wanted to be able to say 'Wow, I made a difference to those few people,' " she said. "I would know I've gotten something good out of these four years."