Commencement: Second Act Is a Dickinson First

Anna and Joe Wagman

by Lauren Davidson

Anna Wagman ’16 descended the steps of Old West on May 22, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from Dickinson College. But that wouldn’t last long. Seconds later, another member of the Wagman family appeared at the top of the steps—Anna’s father, Joe. In a Dickinson first, the tradition of a family legacy delivering the diploma was executed by a child delivering to a parent, rather than the other way around, and the crowd reacted with a swell of cheers.

Flash back to nine years ago when Joe, CEO of York, Pa.-based Wagman Construction with a bachelor’s from Georgetown University, an MBA from George Washington University and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco, plucked the latest copy of Current World Archaeology magazine from his mailbox and spotted an article featuring a dig site in Mycenae, Greece. The article mentioned Dickinson Professor of Archaeology Christofilis Maggidis. Joe’s longtime passion for archaeology was piqued—he has since joined the board of the Mycenaean Foundation and serves as treasurer—and he decided to give Maggidis a call. Soon the two were hitting it off over the business of buried bones.

“I was just beginning to think about planning for retirement and finally having some time for my other interests,” he recalls, and after that conversation with Maggidis, he realized that Dickinson might have just what he was looking for. More calls were made, and soon Joe was approved to pursue a bachelor’s in archaeology.

“I was told, ‘Yeah, you can do this, but you’re going to be treated like any other student,’ ” Joe recalls, noting that since he was able to transfer in credits, he would need only 16 to complete the requirements, which he divvied up into one class per semester for eight years. “I had to deal with the phys-ed and language requirements. I had classes that had group projects, too. But everyone was very accepting.”

While he was busy balancing full-time work with schoolwork, the time came for his daughter Anna to undertake the college search.

“We did the full tour program with a number of schools, and I assumed Dickinson would be an early elimination,” Joe says. But it ended up being the right fit for Anna too.

“Going to school with him has been a funny experience, but I’ve loved having him around for my time here,” Anna shares. “He brings dedication and humor to everything he does, and having that presence at Dickinson has shaped my own attitudes and experience for the better.”

“We have friends in common, we’d get together for lunch or dinner, and we had some professors in common and I could ask about them and she’d get me the scoop,”  Joe says.

And even with three degrees under his belt, Joe found the program challenging. “I had to hire a tutor for Biological Anthropology class,” he recalls. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken a biology course before—it was a lot of work.”

After surviving Biological Anthropology and enjoying the required archaeology courses—including two trips to the dig site in Mycenae—Joe wrapped up his Dickinson career by filling his U.S. Diversity requirement with Debating Civil Rights through Film, taught by Assistant Professor of History Crystal Moten.

“It had such an impact on me, an old white guy,” Joe says. “Whether you’re 20 or 60, as a white person, taking a course on civil rights was really eye opening. The class had great diversity among the students, and we had really healthy dialogue about the civil rights movement. It was a great way to end.”

Which brings us back to Commencement. “We’ve always been really close, so it was great to be able to share this with him,” Anna said after the ceremony. She earned a bachelor’s in anthropology and will study health care management at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.

“It’s nice that Dickinson has a tradition of legacies, and to have this little bit of a spin on it with my daughter giving me the diploma was great,” says Joe, who plans to  take some time off before deciding how exactly to put this new degree to good use. “My wife deserves a break, and it will give me time to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life!”

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Published July 12, 2016