This past weekend, American Public University System (APUS) celebrated the accomplishments of nearly 9,000 American Military University (AMU) and American Public University (APU) students who earned their degrees over the past 12 months. As we did last year, we held this year’s commencement ceremony at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Approximately 1,000 graduates plus their families joined us at the Gaylord to commemorate their achievements. Those who could not attend the ceremony were invited to send in video messages to their fellow graduates that we compiled into a video and viewed at the ceremony.
Our graduates traveled to the Gaylord from at least 30 countries including Germany, Iraq, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the United Kingdom and from all over the United States. Thirty-four percent of our graduates graduated with academic and/or Latin honors. This year’s graduates ranged in age from 14- to 71-years-old. Our 71-year-old graduate proves that it is “never too late” to fulfill a life-long dream. Our 14-year-old graduate, Ms. Eugenie de Silva, is proof that tremendous accomplishments are possible for those with steadfast determination and unwavering perseverance. Every branch of the US military is represented in the Class of 2013. As I reviewed these statistics and looked out on the faces of our graduates and their families, I was reminded once again what a remarkable place APUS is, in large part because of the quality of our students.
We hold two ceremonies each year, one for graduate students and one for undergraduate students. At the graduate ceremony in the morning, we recognized many outstanding students including Ms. Carol Jeffers who earned her Master of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management from APU in 2012. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and was presented with the President’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Student at the ceremony. Carol gave a moving speech (followed by a standing ovation) to her fellow graduates in which she emphasized several key points about perseverance. She encouraged her fellow graduates to “leverage the circumstances of disappointments and defeats into opportunities” and recommended that “when your way is blocked, forge new paths.”
Mr. John Pereira, the CIA’s first Chief of Corporate Learning, served as the commencement speaker for both ceremonies. His extensive service with the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as his experience with the Department of State, provided him unique insights to share with this year’s graduates. In his role as Chief of Corporate Learning, he understands the importance of education in today’s world. He suggested in his speech that to understand the significance of the graduates’ achievement, we need to understand what education is and means. He explained that at the CIA, there are 3 broad categories of learning: “learning for action, learning in action, and learning from action.” He also provided some broader explanations to answer the question “what is learning” stating first that “learning is passion.” He continued by stating that “learning is truth,” explaining that “acquiring truth is about a strong intellectual curiosity” but “attaining truth is more personal. It starts with being true to yourself.” He followed that thought by stating that “learning is action” and encouraged graduates to take action because “learning without action has little meaning.” Mr. Pereira’s sentiments about the need to translate learning into action were echoed during the undergraduate ceremony by Mr. Eric Sifford, the winner of the President’s Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Student.
Eric earned his Bachelor of Arts in Intelligence Students from AMU, returning to school after completing 27 years of military service. In his speech to the undergraduates, Eric talked about the impact of each and every action quoting from the recent film Cloud Atlas: “’Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness we birth our future.’” Eric encouraged his fellow graduates saying, “As we look to the future, let us not only look forward to creating better lives for ourselves and our families, but let us look forward to lives in which we actively participate in creating a better world.”
As I mentioned in the President’s Address at each ceremony, APUS is a unique institution serving a unique group of students. As an online institution, our graduates find themselves attending class with people located as far as half way around the world (or, right down the street). The varied locations and dynamic experiences of our students brings a wealth of ideas to our classrooms and provides students with a learning opportunity above and beyond those they receive from their instructors. The speeches given by our student award recipients and Mr. Pereira reflect these learning opportunities and emphasized a dedication to service which many of our students embrace in their lives outside of the classroom through military service or as first responders. Commitment to service is one of the hallmarks of the APUS culture, and many of our students participated in a service project at the Crescent Ridge Adult Day Health Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland the day before the commencement ceremonies.
During both ceremonies, we took an opportunity to recognize and applaud (literally) the spouses, parents, children, friends, and other loved ones of our graduates for helping make the graduates’ accomplishment possible. The saying “it takes a village…” is well-known and I found this adage running through my head as I joined the graduates, faculty, and staff in applauding and thanking those who supported our graduates as they worked tirelessly through their degree programs. As I am every year, I was truly inspired by the many students I met and the stories they told me about the paths they took to earn their degrees.
Congratulations, Class of 2013!