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Commencement 2019: A Provost Takes Pride

Commencement 2019: A Provost Takes Pride


Guest Post by Dr. Vernon Smith, Provost

Vernon Smith

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.

Talking with keynote speaker Lieutenant General Michelle D. Johnson (USAF-Ret.) during Commencement weekend. Copyright ©Brian Mullins Photography LLC.

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.  

One of our many happy graduates from Commencement 2019. Copyright ©Brian Mullins Photography LLC.

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?



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.


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