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Decorated veteran and lifelong learner sets a record as RCBC valedictorian

Pictured: 2017 Valedictorian Franklin Birch

U.S. Army veteran Franklin Marvin Birch set a record as Rowan College at Burlington County’s oldest valedictorian for the college’s 47th annual commencement ceremony that will be held Saturday, May 20.

Birch, 62, of Pemberton, retired after 30 years of distinguished service in the U.S. Army including serving as Chief Nursing and Sergeant Major of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he worked with wounded veterans and issued briefings to the President of the United States.

“That was the most challenging and rewarding position of my career,” Birch said. “I met many great people who inspired a ‘Can-Do’ spirit in me that helped me achieve many goals beyond my expectations including this humbling honor of serving as valedictorian of Rowan College at Burlington County.”

During his military career, Birch earned associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Excelsior College. He has used his education as a volunteer counselor to veterans. A true lifelong learner, Birch planned to enter a doctorate program at Temple University to better serve those veterans, but wanted to re-acclimate himself to higher education by following his four daughters’ path to RCBC. He will graduate with a 4.0 and two degrees in Human Services and Criminal Justice.

“Mr. Birch is a true hero and an inspirational example of how lifelong education is essential to career and personal success,” RCBC President Paul Drayton said. “This is going to be a memorable ceremony highlighted by Mr. Birch, a keynote address from Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens and the commencement of the initial group of 3+1 students.”

The ceremony will occur at 10 a.m. on the Mount Laurel campus. Tickets are required, but extra guests may watch a livestream in Laurel Hall. It will also be broadcast online at rcbc.edu and the college’s YouTube channel.

Graduation is preceded by the Health Sciences Pinning Ceremony at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 with keynote speaker Dr. Bob Atkins, national program director of New Jersey Health Initiatives, the statewide grant making program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

More information is available at rcbc.edu/commencement.

This year 1,326 are expected to graduate from RCBC, which is the state’s top-ranked community college and one of the fastest-growing programs in the region. For the first time, the class includes 3+1 students who will remain at RCBC to complete their junior year before finishing their bachelor’s degree with Rowan University. In its first year, this program has enrolled about 315 students with another 480 who are interested in it.