Groton - Michael Muehe will be the first to admit that he enrolled at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point four years ago looking for the fast track to Storrs.
Muehe thought the college experience was about getting lost in the crowd. The local campus had a student body smaller than the one at than Robert E. Fitch High School, where he had just graduated.
"I came in looking to get out. But once I finished a semester, I was looking for a way to stay," Muehe said. "It was the connections I made. Our teachers seem to have a really great investment in our success."
Muehe was among 65 UConn graduates honored Friday before a crowd of about 400 during a special graduation celebration at Avery Point.
Campus Director Michael Alfultis said Muehe has a story shared by other graduates. The small campus and highly accessible faculty make for personal connections.
Undergraduate students earned degrees in one or more of the four majors offered at the campus: American studies, English, marine sciences and maritime studies. A host of adult students, including active duty military, earned a bachelor's degree in general studies.
Students donned regalia and processed as they would in any other graduation ceremony, the difference being that their diplomas will be conferred this weekend during commencement in Storrs.
On Friday, graduates received certificates and what Alfultis called the "personal touch of a moment in the spotlight," in which department heads said a few words about each and every student.
Muehe graduated with "rock star" status, according to American studies faculty coordinator Matthew McKenzie, "earning more degrees than a superior court justice." Muehe is going on to study ocean and coastal law at Roger Williams University.
The crowd learned a little something about everyone.
Rachel Piette of Groton earned a bachelor's degree in English in three years and is working full-time as a ballroom dance instructor, one of her dreams.
Cassandra Devney of West Suffield is the first student in school history to earn a double major in maritime studies and marine sciences.
As for the adult students, often with families and full-time jobs, department coordinator Nancy Steemburg said the general studies degree "illustrates the power of persistence."
Among adult students was former U.S. Marine Timothy Rykowski, a full-time Norwich police officer who found time to take classes and earn the second-highest grade point average in the class, securing a spot on the Alpha Sigma Lambda national honor society.
Also graduating is Mark Sebastian of North Stonington, who received a cheer for being the first in his family to earn a college degree. Kathryn Conway of New London, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, yoga teacher and honor society member, is headed to Alaska and a graduate degree in counseling.
"You will always have a home here at Avery Point," Alfultis told graduates.
"My door is always open. My candy bowl is always full."