“It’s important to show my kids that you can have an education and a family.”
LAKEWOOD — Two-hundred service members, retirees, veterans and spouses received college degrees or certificates at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 31st annual College Graduation Ceremony May 11 at Clover Park Technical College.
The group included retired Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Mulryan, the former JBLM Garrison command sergeant major, who was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. A year ago, he provided the welcome for the ceremony; May 11 he earned his master of arts in organizational leadership from Brandman University.
Mulryan’s story is much like many service members and family members who pursued their educational goals despite the challenges of the military lifestyle. He said it took about 27 years to reach his final goal.
“I have been associated with the academic world for almost three decades,” Mulryan said. “Of course that was with one school, then another school and this major, then that major, then part time, then full time, then no time.”
Mulryan spoke as a representative of the 200 graduates who earned associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from eight schools based on JBLM and more than 30 schools off base.
Mulryan recalled being stationed in Afghanistan a few years ago when issues led to internet outages. Two days after the second outage, a German explosives ordnance group detonated some artillery rounds. One went over a wall and took out the one antenna that was the lone internet source.
“Life happens,” Mulryan said. “Changes come, obstacles appear out of nowhere, and all of these things take our attention away from our academic goals.”
Military spouse Caitlin Nyunt can understand. At age 18, she married her husband, Alex, a captain within the 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade. Nyunt said she hopes earning a bachelor’s degree in health science, with a concentration in health education, from Trident University International will inspire their six children.
“It’s important to show my kids that you can have an education and a family,” she said.
Not only did some of the graduates feel a sense of accomplishment, they also felt some relief. At least that’s how Sgt. Joyce Tabura, of the 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, felt after receiving her associate of arts from Central Texas College.
“It’s amazing; it took me forever,” Tabura said. “It’s like all of your struggles are finally over. I can say I did it.”
While the ceremony celebrated the college graduates, the event set a milestone for two of JBLM’s education counselors— Jonathan White and Jan Muri — who have been involved with educational programs on the installation for 30 years. Number 30 will be their last as they enter retirement.
White left the Air Force as a sergeant in 1976 and then completed 10 years as an Air Force Reservist out of JBLM. He said he takes pride in having played a supporting role in service members and their family members gaining an education while in the military.
“If you taught for 30 years, averaging about 200 students per graduation, you’re talking 6,000 students.” White said. “(I) had a part in possibly one or more of those 6,000 families; that’s awesome.”