What does Commencement Mean to Me as APUS President?

Commencement has always been the most memorable workday of the year for me throughout my academic career, and especially so during the past 14 years at APUS. It is this day, this moment when years of hard work and accomplishments are acknowledged and the pride of this recognition, of being able to walk across the stage in a proclamation of personal and professional success, is celebrated with pomp and circumstance, with great dignity and joy.

I recall each of my graduations as a first-generation college graduate. Achieving an undergraduate degree was a major milestone for me and for my family. I recall my Uncle John betting I would never graduate and me collecting on that wager when celebrating my undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University. I recall my parents later joining me as I graduated from Loyola University of Chicago and being so proud of this accomplishment. And the most meaningful moment for me was then walking at George Mason University for my doctoral degree, when I sobbed all the way through the celebration.

My classmates were hugging me for support and my tears ran deep for the accomplishment of a goal I never dreamed I could achieve — a PhD with high honors. I had achieved it with the support of my husband and young son who were by my side, and of my parents and family who joined in the celebration. This was a moment of accomplishment for which I am eternally grateful, for an education paved the way for a future that I had never imagined; one that continues to unfold from year- to- year.

Commencement as celebrated at universities around the globe every spring is a special time that holds significant meaning both for those individuals who walk and for their conferring institution. As president and previous provost of APUS, being part of graduation and experiencing our adult learners walk the stage and accomplish their dreams and prepare for a more promising future is a gift in and of itself.

I commend our graduates: the single parents who study after the kids are in bed after a long day of work; the servicemembers who study while deployed and whose study keeps them connected to meaning and life back home; the working adults who fit study into their career and daily work agendas in order to advance their careers; the first-generation students like me, some of whom were once told they would never make it to college and decades later prove their high school teachers wrong as they walk across the stage; military spouses for whom working online is the only way they can earn a degree due to moving every 1 – 2 years; and the vision of our lifelong learners in a class whose age ranges from 18 to 80, a 62- year span. To hear and share their collective stories, something I will be doing in my next post, is a celebration of life, of learning, and of achievement.

Commencement means many things to many people. For APUS, it means we are fulfilling our mission each and every day and on this day we celebrate this commitment and our success alongside that of each of our students. Thank you, first, to our students for learning with us; second, to our faculty and staff for guiding and walking with our adult students along this path; and, lastly, to our board and our leadership for your support as we live and work to continue to “educate those who serve.”

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