Students from across the country and even as far away as the Middle East traveled to Penn State's campus for graduation weekend on Saturday, May 7. 

Eighty Penn State World Campus graduates and their families, totaling almost 700 people, attended the Penn State World Campus Spring 2022 Graduation Celebration.

Here are some scenes from the event.

The youngest grad ever

AbdAllah Mahassen was just 17 when he graduated on Saturday, May 7, making him the youngest ever to graduate with a degree from Penn State World Campus.

Mahassen, a graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering program, attended commencement with his family, who traveled to State College, Pennsylvania, from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Mahassen called his experience learning online “challenging, exciting, and rewarding.” He said he attended a Penn State career fair in January, got three job offers, and will start a full-time position in software engineering in the summer.

Mahassen was accepted to Penn State when he was 15, and he was originally going to start at the University Park campus, but his parents were leery of sending him to the United States alone at a young age. They learned that Penn State had a bachelor’s in software engineering online, and he started that way. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mahassen finished his degree online.

Doors opening

Joanna Allgood initially started her bachelor's degree at University Park, but life circumstances drew her away from Penn State. Allgood decided during the COVID-19 pandemic that it was time to re-enroll and chose World Campus to complete her Bachelor of Science in Psychology over the past 16 months.

“My World Campus advisers were some of the kindest and most caring people who I’ve ever worked with,” she said.

Allgood’s future plans include re-entering the workforce.

“Now that I have my degree, I can consider some of the career options that were previously closed to me, including going on to graduate school,” she said.

Allgood will also continue to raise her young daughters, who were able to watch their mom graduate on Saturday. She said having them there was a “really powerful experience.”

Surrounded by friends and family

Outgoing student leaders Mona Hill and Ariel Hinojos traveled with their families to Penn State to graduate. They had two friends whom they met through their online courses join them, too.

Hill, who served as president of the World Campus Student Government Association, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Energy and Sustainability Policy, and Hinojos, the vice president, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society.

Joining them to celebrate were Sabrina Smith, the current president of the student government, and fellow officer Daniel Serfass.

Hinojos, who was one of the featured speakers during the Graduation Celebration, told the crowd that she joined 10 student organizations and met dear friends. Her Penn State experience was life-changing.

“The day I got my acceptance letter was one of the best days of my life,” she said.

Three degrees online

Gabby Fretz’s master’s degree is her third degree from Penn State World Campus.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and, working with an adviser, learned she could complete a bachelor's in labor and employment relations by taking several more courses. She decided to continue schooling and was accepted into the Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources and Employment Relations program.

Fretz works as an HR generalist for a manufacturing company in Berks County, Pennsylvania. For the capstone course, she did a research project about implementing an applicant tracking system at her workplace. She said she will spend the next several weeks implementing the system.

Fretz was among the contingent of students with degrees in labor and employment relations who attended the Graduation Celebration. They even got a group photo and participated in the "We Are ... Penn State" cheer.

Meeting your academic adviser

Kimberly Estrella returned to University Park with her family to celebrate the completion of her Bachelor of Science in Information Sciences and Technology. Estrella began her academic career at University Park before transferring to World Campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I found it easier to be online and balance work,” Estrella said.

She and her academic adviser, Amanda Holdren, shared hugs and emotional moments at the celebration. Estrella said meeting Holdren in person was a big reason why she attended the event.

Holdren said, “As an academic adviser, I get a different kind of look into a student’s life and know the obstacles and the struggles, the accomplishments, the progress, and everything we’re celebrating today.” 

There to support each other

Air Force Staff Sgt. Maria Espinosa attended graduation with the support of one of her classmates, Rachel Foster, whom she met when they both joined a service sorority.

Espinosa is a Bachelor of Science in Business graduate, and Foster has about three semesters left in her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice.

“I haven’t seen her in forever, and she came to support me,” Espinosa said. “She knows what a great day this is for me. It was hard, but I am happy that I made it.”

Foster said her friend worked hard to get through school, noting Espinosa was deployed part of the time.

“She’s gone through a lot. She worked hard to get here, and I’m really proud of my friend,” Foster said.

The friends have taken a few trips together, including attending Homecoming at the University. They said students seeking a social experience while enrolled at World Campus can make deep connections.

Espinosa will continue her education by attending dental school. She said her business degree will provide a different perspective of the field in opening a practice.

A transformative time

Derek Bagga told the story of his journey to Penn State in a speech at Saturday’s celebration. He shared his gratitude for an academic adviser whose actions at a career fair prompted Bagga to take his education seriously.

Now Bagga is a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Journalism and Media graduate who said during his speech that he raised his GPA to a 3.4 from the 1.3 it was during his first time in college.

Bagga hopes to work in the entertainment industry. He’s taken steps outside of his degree to work toward his goal, including becoming certified through Google’s Analytics Academy.

“If it wasn’t for that moment of meeting someone from Penn State, I wouldn’t have turned my life around,” Bagga said.

Congratulations to the graduates

Penn State World Campus students can attend the commencement ceremony with their fellow students from other Penn State campuses.

Congratulations to the more than 1,500 Penn State World Campus students who graduated this spring.

Learn more about the degree and certificate programs offered online through Penn State World Campus.

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