Nearly 1,100 newly minted college graduates collected their diplomas at ceremonies Saturday in the Charleston area, where they celebrated their accomplishments and prepared for their next adventures.

For some the next step will be starting a civilian or military career. For others it will be moving along to postgraduate studies. And for others, the next step will be a continuing search for work in a slowly improving economy.

The graduations celebrated in Charleston and North Charleston included the 2012 classes of Charleston Southern University and The Citadel, with 579 and 484 graduates, respectively, and the seven graduates of the American College of the Building Arts.

Citadel women get top honors

History was made at The Citadel's graduation, where top honors went to two women for the first time.

The military college has been graduating female cadets since 1999, but women have not captured either the David Shingler Spell First Honor Graduate or David Shingler Spell Second Honor Graduate, awards that are similar to valedictorian and salutatorian.

This year, both awards went to women — Shanna Marie Couch of Edwards, Kan., and Alexandria “Allie” Ray Burns of Pendleton, respectively — who also happened to be off-campus roommates graduating with bachelor of science degrees in exercise science.

After a faculty member mentioned they were “history makers,” both shyly brushed it off.

“It's not so much that I'm a woman,” said Couch, “but the fact that Allie is one of my friends and we both get to be here celebrating these honors together.”

In fact, history somewhat repeated itself for Couch and Burns on a personal level. Couch was her high school class' valedictorian and Burns was the salutatorian. They now part ways — Couch to the University of Kansas Medical Center to study physical therapy and Burns to the Medical University of South Carolina School of Pharmacy.

Couch and Burns were among 36 women in The Citadel's Class of 2012.

In all, 484 students — including 32 active-duty military personnel and military veterans — made up The Citadel's Class of 2012. Among the 419 members of the Corps of Cadets, 183 received officer commissions, including 92 in the Army, 42 in the Marines, 29 in the Navy and 20 in the Air Force.

Retired Brig. Gen. Harvey Schiller, a 1960 Citadel graduate, received an honorary doctorate Saturday and gave the commencement address at McAlister Field House.

An Air Force combat pilot from 1962 to 1986 who later made a career in professional sports entrepreneurship, Schiller told the graduates he had an advantage in life that they all now share: a degree from The Citadel and a desire to go out and serve the world.

“I've been fortunate enough to receive World Series rings, a Stanley Cup ring, many Olympic rings and university rings, and all of them together are not as strong and valuable as this one,” said Schiller, holding his hand up to show the graduates his Citadel class ring.

CSU graduates 579

There are many symbols and rituals associated with a graduation. There are caps and gowns, the diplomas, the processionals, the moving of the tassels, and for at least one Charleston Southern University graduate, the cutting of the dreadlocks.

Miguel McDaniel, 23, was one of 579 to graduate from Charleston Southern during Saturday's commencement at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Fulfilling a promise he made to his grandmother, McDaniel commemorated his accomplishment by cutting the midchest-length dreadlocks he had grown over the last five years.

McDaniel, an Orangeburg native, said pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting was a test of patience, persistence and perseverance — a test faced by his classmates. But McDaniel's journey came with an additional challenge.

He has had a visual impairment called nystagmus since birth. His pupils move constantly in a jumping or dancing pattern, which makes ordinary tasks more difficult.

Late nights studying required more effort as he concentrated on focusing his eyes on one word at a time. He's learned that looking through the corners of his eyes seems to calm them.

“Being able to incorporate my faith has strengthened me,” McDaniel said. “I needed that in my earlier years, and it's molded me into the man that I am today.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott gave the commencement address that also focused on faith.

“Greater is he who is in me than all of the circumstances that surround me,” Scott told the graduates. “And if you believe that, your mind will resemble greatness.”

Scott, a Charleston native, graduated from Charleston Southern in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in political science. He went on to run an insurance business while winning election to Charleston County Council, then the Legislature, then Congress.

The university awarded him an honorary doctorate of public service Saturday. The school also recognized communications professor Delores Jones, who is retiring after 45 years at Charleston Southern.

ACBA graduates 7

Accomplished in their achievements but small in numbers, the American College of the Building Arts Class of 2012 also celebrated graduation Saturday.

Degrees were conferred upon seven graduates during a ceremony at Washington Park in downtown Charleston near the corner of Broad and Meeting streets. The graduates represented the building arts of masonry, plaster work, timber framing and forged ornamental ironwork.

Receiving a bachelor's degree of Applied Science in the Building Arts were Emily Fairchild Gillett of Charlotte, N.C.; valedictorian Aislinn Baycroft Lewis of Montross, Va. (cum laude); Mackenzie L. Martin of Braselton, Ga; Peter Stewart McGinnis of Taylors; Edward Anthony Stroud of Charleston;

James W. Breazeale of Fort Motte and John Emory Holler III of Columbia received associate degrees.