(Editor’s note: The following article was provided by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.)
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Dec. 2, 2021) – Fort Sill hosted a multi-school graduation ceremony to recognize and celebrate the academic achievements of the military community members who have earned education credentials since June 2019.
Approximately 125 students participated, and altogether 374 graduated, said Mike Dodds, chief, education services division.
“But that’s over a two-and-a-half year period from June of 2019 to the present. A lot of those are from 2019 or 2020 when we didn’t have a ceremony because of the COVID pandemic. There also wasn’t a ceremony in May of this year because of COVID,” he said.
The ceremony, held at Cache Creek Chapel, was split into two events – the first at 2 p.m. and the second at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2021. The first ceremony was for students from four schools: Cameron University, Central Texas College, Columbia College and Upper Iowa University. The second ceremony at 5:30 p.m. recognized and celebrated students from eight schools including the University of Oklahoma, Webster University and off-post schools.
Dodds said there are usually between 250-300 students graduating per year.
“We just had a few more this year. Everybody got a chance to participate – whether it was Soldiers, Marines, DA civilians or family members,” said Dodds. “In fact, in the 5:30 service, there were some Navy and Air Force members graduating. It happens whenever there are other services stationed, either here or maybe up in Oklahoma City or the surrounding bases, which are coming here to use the Harry S. Truman Education Center or the Army Continuing Education Services (ACES) to get their degree.”
One Soldier was able to use the education center and the ACES to take courses online from Upper Iowa University and finished his Associate degree in Liberal Arts.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Pena, Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said he joined the Army to afford himself the opportunity to get an education.
“I couldn’t have done it without the Army. I joined the Army in 2015 and I got my degree in 2020,” he said. “I would absolutely recommend the Army as a way for others to get their education. The Army is here to help you succeed and become the best version of yourself. I tell other Soldiers to use that to their advantage and they can hang.”
Pena said although the COVID pandemic forced him to wait a year to be able to walk across the stage and get his diploma, he never had to stop his classes since they were online.
According to Dodds, it is important to recognize the service members who get their education through the ACES program because for many of them it is a long road.
“You know, they joined the military, and they go to school, and they learn their MOS, or their job in the military. Then it’s train, train, train and deployments, back to training, deployments, training. For some of them the rate of training and deployments just makes it so difficult for them to go to school,” he said. “For many of them, it takes years to get a degree. A two-year degree for a civilian might take three or four years for a Soldier. A four-year degree for a civilian may take six, seven or eight years for a Soldier or service member.
“The thing is they don’t quit. That is something they have ingrained when they join the military. That perseverance, that drive, the determination and that dedication so when they start something, they see it through and they finish what they started here,” Dodds explained. “They might finish it at another installation because they PCS, but the key thing is to get them to finish and earn a degree because it makes them a better Soldier and a better leader. It enhances unit readiness, Soldier readiness, and it prepares them better for when they transition out of the military back to the civilian workforce. Because now they have that military education and training with experience leading and managing. Combine that with a degree that makes them more marketable.”
Dodds said his reward comes from seeing a Soldier graduate.
“The best part to me is standing up there and shaking their hand when they walk across the stage,” he said. “They worked so hard to get there and now it’s time to celebrate them. That’s what it’s all about and why we do it. And today is the day to celebrate them. This is their day.”
Check out all the photos, including that of UIU President William R. Duffy II with UIU graduates, from the 2 p.m. ceremony at flickr.com/photos/fortsillcannoneer/albums/72157720254520565.