By Christy Womack • MTSU Creative and Visual Services photos by Andy Heidt
MTSU recognized 24 of 89 graduating student veterans during the sixth Stole Ceremony, held November 28, in the Tom H. Jackson Building’s Cantrell Hall. Since May 2015, MTSU has honored its graduating student veterans with a formal ceremony in front of federal, state and university leaders as well as family and friends.
Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives and retired U.S. Army lieutenant general; Dr. Hilary Miller, director of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center; and MTSU interim provost Mark Byrnes shared remarks and their admiration for the accomplishments of these student veterans.
These students have gone the extra mile to graduate. Their time in service generally has taken place during the military conflict in the Middle East and their college career has been undertaken while holding down jobs and maintaining families.
General Huber challenged the graduates to remain focused, “to continue your service in your communities and businesses. Good intentions mean very little. Actions are what count.” He reflected upon the commonality of service among military personnel and how they have been taught to rely on one another, to share resources, goals, objectives and even sacrifice.
“Student veterans are an untapped source of potential employees that will improve businesses,” explained General Huber. The average age of the student veterans is 28.6 years and 95% of them have done multiple combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The skills they have developed through their military experience can prove very beneficial to employers.
Interim Provost Byrnes added, “I appreciate what you have done for our nation and for MTSU, and what you will continue to do in the future. I am thankful to have student veterans in the classroom for many reasons, but mostly for bringing unique viewpoints to classroom discussions. MTSU has embraced enthusiastically our commitment to veterans and we are lucky to have a national leader in veterans issues, General Huber.”
The commitment of the faculty and staff of MTSU to veterans was very evident in the room with the large turnout of faculty and staff, many of whom are veterans themselves. Jennifer Vedral-Baron, the Veterans Affairs Health System Director for the Tennessee Valley was also present as well as Colonel Jeff Davidson, USA, Retired, deputy mayor for Rutherford County; retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. and MTSU alumnus David Ogg; Bryan James and Jerrod Ervin of Barrett Firearms; Chinh Brown, Steve Clayton, Todd Thiel, Brad Fannin, and Fran Jones with Bridgestone; and Tomeka Cain, Chris Dingwall, Jordan McCall, Tonna Mustian with Veterans Affairs (Benefits Nashville). It was one of the largest stole ceremonies to date.
The students were given red stoles to wear during graduation on December 10. General Huber encouraged the audience to attend graduation. “When they ask the student veterans to stand and thirteen or fourteen thousand people erupt into applause, it is very moving.”
In addition to the red stole, the students also received a commemorative coin from General Huber. Dr. Hilary Miller also personally presented the students after the ceremony with a square coin that she hopes the students will carry with them every day.
"With accomplishments comes responsibility,” said Miller. “When we designed this coin, I didn’t want it to feel like every other coin in your pocket. I wanted you to feel those edges and to remember that you still have a responsibility to give back to your community, and to MTSU. As you come across veterans in your professional life who have needs, I want you to continue to call on us to help serve those needs.”
To men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving their country, continuing that service to others in their professional careers is a given.
For more information on how you can hire a MTSU veteran graduate contact the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at 615-904-8347 or visit mtsu.edu/military/index.php.