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Three decades later, mom earns degree

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Angela Maniece says it started with a conference in North Carolina.

She and other attendees were asked what they had wanted to be when they were children. That got her thinking.

“That was like the first epiphany moment, I guess you could say,” said Maniece, 54, who lives in Stafford County.

A short time later, her pastor mentioned leap year during a sermon, encouraging his congregation to “leap” into their destinies.

Finally, in the fall of 2011, her son asked her what she had wanted to do for a living when she was younger. Her answer was the same as it was at the conference earlier in the year.

She’s always wanted to be a teacher.

Those moments led Maniece to apply to the University of Mary Washington, more than 30 years after she dropped out of college to join the Navy.

PICTURES: View BONUS PHOTOS from the UMW graduation.

On Saturday, the married mother of five received her bachelor’s degree from UMW. The fact that it was the day before Mother’s Day only added to the celebration.

Maniece’s 26-year-old daughter, Anjelica Malone, who flew in from Puerto Rico for the graduation with her 3-month-old daughter, said:

“Anytime you get to do what you really want to do after so much hard work raising us it’s even more worth it and more fulfilling than maybe being able to do it right out of high school.”

Earlier in the week, Maniece’s 21-year-old daughter, Ashley Hopkins–Slayton, graduated from Germanna Community College. She plans to attend UMW.

“I can kind of follow in her footsteps now,” she said.

Maniece, who spent 22 years in the Navy, was able to finance her education through the GI Bill.

In January 2012, after resigning from her job with the American Red Cross, she started a full course load at UMW’s Fredericksburg campus. She took geography, sociology, introduction to theater, art history, and design principles.

She eventually declared studio art as her major and is thinking about becoming an art teacher.

It didn’t take long for Maniece to bond with students, many of whom are younger than her daughters. A couple even called her “momma.”

Another student said she reminded him of his mother, and she took it as a compliment.

Other than that, “I often forgot I was much older than they were. Art is sort of like a family here.”

All found themselves in the art studio at all hours of the night, regardless of their ages.

Maniece first started drawing in 2005, when she bought flower pots and paint for a family Easter project. Then she began drawing on canvases.

Now she specializes in ceramics, having depicted her daughters in clay for her independent study.

UMW’s art department chair had actually judged her work in a local art show years before she enrolled at the school. Maniece placed third in the novice category.

Now that she finally has her degree, she may pursue a master’s degree in education at UMW. She’s also interested in teaching at a charter school in Washington.

Whatever she does, she hopes to help students discover their passions sooner than she was able to.

“There are people who are literally waiting for someone to come and help them,” she said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402