Radford University's Winter Commencement ceremonies were a combination homecoming and graduation celebration for Brian Morris.
The senior management major from Virginia Beach returned on Dec. 14 to Fort Lauderdale from a 111-day, 12-country circumnavigation of the globe. He drove straight to Radford, donned cap and gown for the Dec. 17 ceremony where he received his degree and was reunited with his family, who had not seen him since he left last summer as one of the International Shipboard Education's first Semester at Sea (SAS) Presidential Scholars.
"We traveled the world together and did a lot of growing up," Morris said.
Among the stops on Morris' three-and-a-half month SAS voyage were Casablanca, Morocco; Port Louis, Mauritius; Penang, Malaysia; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; and Havana, Cuba.
As he walked across the stage in Bondurant Auditorium during commencement, Morris wore a hand-woven ceremonial kente cloth given to him by the tribal elders of Tafi Atome, a small village in Ghana.
"It was like going back in time. They were so hospitable and welcoming. I experienced a sense of community I have never felt," he said. The whole trip was filled with "wow" or "ah-ha" moments, he said, like dealing with persistent Moroccan street vendors, crossing a busy Vietnamese street filled with scooters and motorbikes, and climbing Tabletop Mountain outside Cape Town, South Africa.
Morris and fellow Radford University student Jeremy Hunziker, a senior history and international studies major from Fredericksburg, each earned 12 to 15 credits by taking classes while aboard ship. Morris's schedule included marine biology, international business management, international real estate and the core global studies class.
"Most of the learning came while we were in port," he said. "I am still piecing it all together because the whole trip was like being in a tunnel. As the trip went on, we had enough time to do laundry, take a vitamin and do the classwork to be ready for the next stop."
Among the many highlights Morris recalled was trip up the Li River to Yangshuo, China, where he was awed by the community's spectacular light show that reflected off the river and onto the surrounding mountains. "Everybody there wanted to practice their English, yet it was the most peaceful time of the trip," he said.
Morris took more than 6,500 photographs during his trip that he described as a "sample platter with just enough to make you want to go back for more."
"Everything is global now, and I realize I can't live in a bubble," he said. "I understand that the world is connected and how big a difference I can make."