Guest Post by Lamar A. Burris
AMU Graduate and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
I attended this year’s Commencement ceremony by earning my B.A. in English. Let me explain what Commencement meant to me.
I flew from Okinawa to participate in a weekend of fun. First, I attended the food drive and met some great people. Whoever came up with this idea deserves more than a pat on the back. It brought the graduates together, in a way that removed the feeling of not knowing anyone amongst so many new faces from all walks of life. Afterwards, I attempted to make the social events, but due to traffic I did not make it although my hotel was only seven miles away. No problem, because nothing was going to dampen my spirits. The coup de grâce was happening June 2nd at 3 p.m., and I thought gracing that stage as my name was called would be the cherry on top. It was not.
I joined the Marine Corps in January 1990. My first commandant was General Alfred M. Gray. The first and last time I saw him was aboard the USS Gunston Hall in February 1991. The war was shortly over and we were asking the question, “Why aren’t we on our way home?” General Gray’s reply was, “I got you right where you need to be. You’ll go home when I say you’re going home.” We cheered and laughed because Marines love a stern and truthful answer.
To be honest, I thought that would be the last time I heard his voice in person. When I heard his name called as a member of AMU’s Board of Trustees, I perked up and thought, “How can I address him without breaking the protocol of receiving my certificate and marching smartly back to my seat?” I had no answers, so I did as I was told and followed the orders that were given, as Marines do.
What happened next will be forever ingrained in my thoughts. As my name was called, General Gray stood up and not only shook my hand, but we embraced. As he pulled me in, he said, “Congratulations, Devil Dog.” I immediately thought, “Unless Jesus cracks the sky and calls me by name, my day can’t get any better.”
I’m still riding that cloud. I’ve told the story to as many people who will listen. As a matter of fact, when I get to heaven God, too, will have to take a seat and listen, as I tell of my full circle moment at the 2018 AMU Commencement when I embraced my first commandant, General Alfred M. Gray.