Guest Post by Dr. Vernon Smith, Provost
Are you a fan of Commencement? Does hearing Pomp and Circumstance stir excitement and fond memories? Do you look for the most creative mortarboards with phrases like, “She did it!”, “I persisted!”, “Hi, Mom!” and the like? Do you like hearing the thoughts and advice shared by graduates and keynote speakers? If you’re like me and happened to attend our recent Commencement, then you weren’t disappointed.
Over 1,300 students walked across the stage during the ceremonies attended by some 7,000+ family members and friends along with our faculty and staff at the Gaylord at National Harbor. We publicly recognized them for obtaining a diploma as well as showing the grit, tenacity, hard work, and dedication to earn that diploma. These graduates represented but a fraction of the nearly 11,000 students who were conferred American Military University or American Public University degrees throughout the year. Some wore brightly colored stoles indicating special designations, such as being a first-generation student, their military service, and academic and student organization honors. In addition to being congratulated by me and our president Dr. Wally Boston, General Alfred M. Gray, Jr., 29th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and President of our Board of Trustees, personally greeted every AMU student wearing their Class-A uniform.
I was so impressed by our student speakers. Philip G. Ross, who earned his Master of Sports and Health Sciences, shared his journey to overcome incredible personal and professional obstacles to reach his goals. Undergraduate speaker Christina Schaff, who earned a Bachelor of Religion, graduated Summa Cum Laude and shared how her experience as an Army veteran and her Samoan family and culture has guided and informed her in her struggles to excel in academics and serve others unselfishly.
Perhaps the most memorable remarks came from Lieutenant General Michelle D. Johnson (USAF-Ret.), senior vice president and head of referee operations for the NBA, an early Mother’s Day gift and something I will share with my daughters and sons. She related a stirring and inspiring story of her journey as a young woman growing up in Iowa, later earning a slot at the Air Force Academy in the second class that admitted women. She distinguished herself as the first woman cadet wing commander and an All-American in basketball, while dedicating the time and rigor to her studies to secure a Rhodes Scholarship. After serving in squadron, group, and wing flying units, she directly served Presidents Bush and Clinton and returned to serve as superintendent of the Air Force Academy—also a first for a woman. Some of her advice included, “tak[ing] a chance on unexpected opportunities” and “learning from setbacks, put one foot in front of the other and press on.” Her gracious and humble words were a gift to all. I highly recommend watching both her and President Boston’s remarks, which are available online.
I admit it. When it comes to Commencement, I’m a big fan. I love it all: the music, the excitement, but mostly, sharing the moment with our APUS graduates. And who wouldn’t?