Last Thursday and Friday, American Public University System (APUS) hosted its annual commencement recognizing all students who graduated over the previous 12 months. While degrees and diplomas are conferred and distributed quarterly, we have held an annual commencement ceremony in the Washington, DC area for more than a decade. This year’s was held at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center at National Harbor, MD.
Our students and graduates reside in all 50 states and more than 100 countries and many of the attendees at graduation travel from long distances. Thursday morning, members of the Golden Key International Honour Society participated in a community service event by visiting the Crescent Ridge Adult Day Health Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Golden Key members assisted with spring landscaping chores and visited with the residents of the facility. They also assisted in detailing the bus used for transportation to and from the Center. Thursday afternoon, the Golden Key International Honour Society held a meeting at which five individuals were awarded honorary memberships (I am honored that I was one of those individuals along with Dr. Karan Powell, our provost). Lastly, Thursday evening, APUS hosted a reception for graduates, their guests, our board members, and our attending faculty and staff. The reception gives our grads a chance to speak with some of their faculty members as well as meet with our administration and board members. Combined with graduation, it’s my favorite event of the year.
Faculty and students receiving awards were acknowledged at a breakfast on Friday morning. Class of 2012 Academic Scholar Awards were presented to: Allison Baine, Lindsay Vani, Rachel Day, Amy James, Dorian Young, Ann Ziluck, and Thomas Laughlin. Undergraduate academic awards were given to Gregory Strong, Biborka Prindle, Rachel Rice, Brent Danberry, Neverley Shoemake, Steven Trippe, and Coulter Tallent. Alumni award recipients were Thomas Alexander, Bill Tubbs, and Frances Arias. The 2012 Excellence in Teaching and Learning Awards were presented to: Ms. Carol Froisy (School of Arts and Humanities), Ms. Emily Phillippe (School of Business), Dr. William Gillum (School of Education), Dr. Lisa Miller (School of Management), Dr. James Smith (School of Public Service and Health), Dr. Tricia Keiter (School of Science and Technology), and Mr. Brett Hicks (School of Security and Global Studies). Mr. Jack Galvan received the Outstanding New Faculty Member of the Year award and Mr. Paul Cooke was honored with the Outstanding Faculty Member award.
The Class of 2012 includes 7,096 graduates whose degrees were conferred after last year’s graduation through May 2012. Their graduation increases the number of AMU or APU alumni to over 26,000. The composition of these graduates was: 986 Associates’ graduates, 3,163 Bachelor’s graduates, and 2,947 Master’s graduates. The vast majority of the graduates were U.S. citizens but students who were residents of 29 countries were in this year’s graduating class. Because of the size of the class, we held two ceremonies, one for master’s graduates in the morning and another for associates’ and bachelor’s graduates in the afternoon. Nearly 400 master’s graduates attended the morning ceremony along with several thousand guests and 333 undergraduate alums attended the afternoon ceremony with what appeared to be a slightly larger number of family members and friends than the master’s graduates.
At the graduate ceremony, Supervisory Special Agent Michael J. Collett received the President’s award for outstanding graduate student of the year. SSA Collett completed his Master of Arts in Intelligence Studies earning a 4.0 GPA. A veteran who served with the Marines and Army, SSA Collett has also served over 20 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). SSA Collett spoke about how the availability of distance learning programs enabled him to progress throughout his career. He encouraged his classmates to seek new adventures and new educational opportunities, whether formally attending colleges and universities or informally reading books and staying engaged with open source media. He also encouraged his classmates to become mentors for their peers and others in order to assist them to achieve their potential.
The President’s Award for outstanding undergraduate student of the year was presented to Ms. Karisa Taylor. Ms. Taylor completed her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science with honors and also completed a concentration in environmental technology and management from American Military University (AMU). She was a member of Golden Key International Honour Society, Delta Epsilon Tau Honor Society, and Phi Theta Kappa. Ms. Taylor was a key player in the chartering of our university chapter of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) and served as chapter president. She recently started two businesses, Thrive – a personalized eco-life consulting company and True Karisma, LLC – which sells eco-friendly skincare and household products. Ms. Taylor spoke about her non-traditional journey to earn a bachelor’s degree which took her 14 years and two associates degrees before she realized where her passion lies. She enrolled at AMU for the quality of the environmental science program but didn’t realize that she would find a sense of community with individuals from all over the world. She called on her classmates to “leave your footprints in the lives of those around you” and “above all else – never settle [for doing something you don’t want to do].”
Speaking as the keynote speaker at both ceremonies, retired Army Lt. General Ken Hunzeker spoke about his 35 year career in the military beginning after graduation from West Point and the opportunities that he had to continue his education earning Master’s degrees from the Naval Post Graduate School in California and the National Defense University in Washington, DC. LTG (ret) Hunzeker spoke about the profile of the graduating class of 2012 and how the vast majority had earned their degrees while serving their country or working full-time as a civilian. He talked about his family, how his mother earned her associates’ degree in her 50’s after he, his brother, and sister earned master’s or doctoral degrees, and how his four daughters are college graduates as well. LTG (ret) Hunzeker stressed the importance of earning a college degree, a credential that many employers demand as a condition of employment. He stated that the skills learned in college are transferrable to many aspects of the graduates’ lives and that the perseverance and commitment demonstrated by graduates earning their degrees at a distance and while working sets the conditions for their future career success. Lastly, he challenged the graduates to follow their passions saying “if you love what you are doing – I find that most everything else just falls into place.”
I had the honor and distinct privilege of presenting an honorary doctorate degree in Public Service to Lt. General (ret.) Julius Becton, Jr. LTG (ret) Becton has been a member of the American Public University Board since 2007 but his notable career is worth listing. In 1943, Julius Becton enlisted in the Army Air Corps. His long and distinguished military career spanned more than 40 years including service during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Cold War culminating with his retirement in 1983. He subsequently served as the Director of Foreign Disaster Assistance with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He was appointed in 1989 as the fifth President of Prairie View A&M University where he earned his baccalaureate degree while serving in the military. He later served two years as the CEO and Superintendent of Schools for the Department of Public Schools of the District of Columbia. His book, Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant, is a very worthwhile read for anyone leading an organization or aspiring to be a leader.
Shaking the hand of each and every graduate as they walk across the stage is a memorable experience. Some have their cheering section of family and friends in the audience. Some come to graduation by themselves. Almost all have a satisfactory smile of achievement, recognizing the milestone that has occurred. A few made the remark to me on Friday that they were already attending classes for their next degree. Given the potential distractions of work, family, or life in general, the persistence and drive of these individuals is impressive. Listening to the advice of our student speakers and keynote speakers, I hope that all of our graduates leave their individual footprints, follow their passions, never settle for something that they don’t want to do, and mentor others to do the same. I also thank them for choosing AMU and APU as their university. We are proud to call this stellar group of individuals alumni.