It was hard to contain the excitement as a packed house at Clover Park Technical College’s Sharon McGavick Conference Center watched 180 graduates walk onto the stage to receive diplomas the afternoon of May 12.
The Brass Quartet from the 56th Army Band played the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduates streamed into the auditorium. Phone cameras and iPads recorded the moments as the scholars — service members and family members — alternately smiled or teared up.
The event, the 30th annual Joint Base Lewis-McChord Combined College and University Graduation, didn’t lose its dignity but allowed for expression of enthusiasm, relief and rejoicing as families and friends shared the culmination of many long hours of hard work on the part of students, teachers and staff.
The 180 people who walked represent this year’s 600 JBLM graduates who received degrees or certificates from one of the 40 colleges and universities participating in the higher learning programs at the David L. Stone Education Center on base.
Students graduated from JBLM’s eight resident schools: St. Martin’s University, Brandman University, Pierce College, Central Texas College, City University of Seattle, University of Maryland University College, Central Washington University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, as well as 32 off-base universities and colleges.
“They didn’t get here on their own,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Mulryan, JBLM command sergeant major, in his welcoming remarks at the event.
He credited the achievement to the students and faculty members, as well as the parents, children and spouses of the graduates.
That’s true in the case of Hugo Barragan, of Spanaway, a St. Martin’s University graduate, who earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration at the ceremony. Barragan’s wife, Jennifer, and sons Elijah, 10, and Jacob, 17, and Barragan’s mom, Marina, cheered loudly as the 38-year-old Army veteran walked across the platform.
Jennifer said the past few years since her husband transitioned from service at JBLM has been filled with with hard work and a lot of studying in the evenings and into the early mornings. He currently works for the Department of Defense at JBLM.
“He goes to work, school and then studies sometimes until 3 a.m.,” she said. “Then he gets up at 6 a.m. to go to work again. “We’re looking forward to more family time and less books.”
As Mulryan said in his remarks, graduates this year came from a wide range of military ranks, from specialists and corporals to lieutenant colonels.
He also mentioned Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Israel, who served as student speaker at the event. Israel recently retired as command chief warrant officer of I Corps. He earned his Bachelor of Science in management studies from the University of Maryland University College.
Israel encouraged his fellow graduates to follow their dreams and inspire others to continue learning.
“Imagine if I can do this as an old guy, with 30 years in the Army; imagine what you can do with your whole life ahead of you,” he said. “Be that inspiration to help the next generation, the family members and the co-workers to achieve that success.”
Five-year-old King House seemed pretty inspired when he yelled out, “Daddy!” as Sgt. 1st Class Randall Johnson, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps, walked on the stage to receive his Associate of Applied Science diploma from Central Texas College.
King’s mother, Jaliesa Johnson, said she was proud of Johnson for his hard work and persistence in earning his degree. She’s currently a technology student at Clover Park Technical College and said it’s been a struggle for she and her husband to work, go to school and care for King and his 2-year-old sister, Audri Johnson.
Johnson is retiring at the end of July after 30 years in the military. Jaliesa said he hopes to transition to a job working for the Veterans Administration.
“He wants to continue to help other service members and veterans,” his wife said.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Antaeus Woodson of the 62nd Maintenance Squadron, who earned his Bachelor of Science in human resource management from the University of Maryland University College, also plans to secure a job working for the VA. Woodson plans to earn a master’s degree in his field first, according to his mom, Barbara Woodson, of Navarre, Fla.
Thirty-eight-year-old Woodson was a military kid; his dad, Master Sgt. Curtis Woodson, retired from the Air Force. Woodson plans to retire in November after 20 years in the military, his mom said.
“I’m so proud of him,” Barbara Woodson said, “He’s done very well.”