Among the sea of graduates dressed in black robes and caps at the York College winter commencement Wednesday stood 64-year-old James Woof.

Woof was set apart by his age: Instead of celebrating his 65th birthday in January by thinking of retirement, he'll be reveling with a brand-new Bachelor of Science degree in sociology.

But Woof was also set apart by his dress. He served in the U.S. Army for 38 years before earning his college degree and was clad in his full dress uniform.

Woof said he retired from the Army in 2009 as a chief warrant officer following decades of service in the state National Guard and Army, including a tour in Iraq. He had also retired from his civilian work as a real estate appraiser and decided then to attend the school.

"This is my time," Woof said, misty-eyed as he watched the throngs of fellow graduates find their families following the ceremony in the Grumbacher Sport & Fitness Center.

Woof said he hopes to work at a national level for disaster assessment, including work that is done to determine federal aid following events such as Hurricane Sandy.

Woof planned to spend his day celebrating with close family and friends, including his wife, Ruth, who he said was a support throughout his entire career and while studying for his degree.

Woof said he wore his uniform in part because the college is starting a veteran's group, an initiative Ruth said the couple is proud to support because it works toward promoting campus diversity.

Other graduates: Woof was joined by about 300 of his classmates who also received their degrees during the winter graduation ceremony.

For some, the milestone was bittersweet. Caanen Churukha and Brian Heckert, who received bachelor's degrees in philosophy, said they will miss the tight-knit group of eight or so students in their major. Both said they will spend the spring applying to graduate programs to continue their studies.

Shelbi Lamothe, who graduated from the college's nursing program, said she is looking into becoming a nurse in the Army, but will miss her sorority sisters in Phi Sigma Sigma.

"That will be one of the hardest things to move on from," she said.

Lamothe said the professors she had prepared her for her career. She said they are all "100 percent professionals" in the field, which helped her to learn in the classroom.

Other students were anticipating the start of their career. Herman Goldner, who studied engineering management, said he will work for his father at Herman Goldner Co., a mechanical contracting business based in Philadelphia. Fellow graduate Michelle Moore said she will begin working at BAE Systems in January to update the company's database. Moore said she interned for the company in two past summers, and was contacted by the company for the position.

- Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.