By Pamme Boutselis, Content Director, Marketing & Communications
At Southern New Hampshire University, we understand and respect the enormous sacrifices our military service members and their families make on behalf of our country. Last spring, SNHU went around the world to celebrate the success of graduates in our military community — an active-duty sailor, two military spouses and a veteran. All were members of the SNHU Class of 2014 who were not able to attend commencement in New Hampshire.
The Miles Residence – Oceanside, Calif.
In Oceanside, California, military academic advisor Jessica Higgins (now assistant director of Military Benefits for SNHU) surprised military spouse Renee Miles with her B.S. in Business Studies diploma at her home.
For 20 years, Miles supported her husband Tom’s military career, and it was only in recent years that she went back to school for her own advancement. Her husband, a former gunnery sergeant involved in communication security, was deployed twice to Iraq, in 2003 and 2008. Living in Athol, Massachusetts, with their three children, Miles excitedly anticipated walking across the stage at SNHU’s 2014 Commencement in Manchester, New Hampshire, to receive her undergraduate diploma.
Tom, who Miles says is her biggest supporter, retired from the U.S. Marines in January, and the family relocated to California to be closer to her family. (Her father, Oscar Soto, had retired from the U.S. Air Force on the same day as her husband.) While the families were delighted to reunite, Higgins knew how heartbroken Miles was that she could not walk as planned at commencement. SNHU reached out to Tom Miles, who couldn’t have been more excited to help create a special day for his wife.
The Miles and Soto families gathered poolside just prior to Higgins’ arrival. Tom Miles told his wife how proud they all were that she completed her degree and acknowledged how tough it had been at times, with his deployments, being alone with the kids, working and, finally, moving across the country.
“We know you couldn’t go there and get your diploma and walk like everybody else; we got the next best thing,” he said. “So, we got some people here. They want to see you.”
Then Higgins appeared, walking into the Miles’ backyard, laden with SNHU balloons, followed by other university staff bearing a framed diploma, a graduation cake and some SNHU spirit items for the family. She was overwhelmed and very appreciative. She may not have gotten to walk across that stage, but she received her diploma with her biggest supporters there, celebrating her achievement.
Command Logistics Western Pacific (COMLOG WESTPAC) – Singapore
As graduates began filing into the arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, for commencement May 10, another SNHU graduation ceremony had concluded overseas. The graduate was active-duty sailor Trevor Methena, who earned his B.S. in Business Studies with a concentration in Computer Information Technology and was not able to attend ceremonies stateside. SNHU staff discussed creating a surprise graduation ceremony with Trevor’s wife, Monica, who couldn’t have been more excited to jump in and help make it happen.
An IT1 for Command Logistics Western Pacific in the 7th Fleet in Singapore, Methena has had a year of many accomplishments – finishing his degree program, becoming a new father and being named Sailor of the Year for his region. He is also the command fitness leader, which his wife said is almost unheard of for someone of his rank. While she acknowledges it took her husband a while to complete his degree, she said, “He powered through and never let go of his objectives.” Already planning for civilian life, the Methenas have established a business back home in Texas – PRISM CrossFit – and Methena said the knowledge obtained as he earned his degree would serve him well in his career.
As a U.S. Navy service member, Methena never questioned why he was being asked to report to a specific location one morning, although he did wonder why his commanding officer asked him to change into a less casual uniform. His assumption was that high-ranking visitors were due. It wasn’t until his young son made an appearance from a side office that he started to wonder what was up. He didn’t have time to wonder long though, as Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud, commander of COMLOG WESTPAC, entered the room filled with service members and quickly turned her attention to Methena.
“You were here, you had a baby, you were Sailor of the Year and did all the academic work, long distance. That is pretty impressive. I want to congratulate you,” Thebaud said.
Methena was so stunned by his surprise graduation ceremony, he simply stood still as his wife placed his mortarboard on his head. Equally surprising was receiving his SNHU diploma from his commander, who said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Methena came to SNHU via a recommendation from a colleague and has in turn recommended the university to others in the military. He recalled communicating with military advisor Autumn Earnshaw Fillion and how great it was to have support from a team of military veterans.
Fort Bragg – Fayetteville, N.C.
SNHU staff traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Gary Soldato, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.) and assistant vice president of the university’s military initiatives, presented U.S. Army veteran Derald Wise with his B.A. in Game Design and Development diploma. He was joined by SNHU Career Advisor Kendra Thomas, also a U.S. Army veteran. Wise works at Fort Bragg and has assisted SNHU Career with internships through his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton.
Wise, who lived in Dallas at the time, said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks profoundly impacted him and his brothers. Like their father and his father before him, the brothers entered military service. As Wise transitioned to civilian life in more recent years, the military had begun using a video game called Virtual Battle Space 2 to help train soldiers and Marines for combat. While it was still a relatively new concept, Wise was offered a job designing scenarios for the military. This led to his job at Fort Bragg as the lead VBS2 developer for the XVIII ABN CORPS.
Although he had solid skills in place, his employer encouraged him to finish his bachelor’s degree to ensure he had the education to back his experience. Wise began researching game design degrees and discovered SNHU.
“What got me going was a little bit family, a little bit Jim [his manager] here at Booz Allen Hamilton, and wanting to finish what I started,” said Wise. “It’s unusual for someone to be in game design without the education, and I know this will open up opportunities for me.”
Due to work commitments, Wise and his family were not able to travel to commencement. SNHU staff reached out to his wife, Nicole, and to senior leaders at Booz Allen Hamilton to see if they could bring graduation to Wise instead. Wise was stunned to see his parents, wife and children suddenly appear midday one Monday in May at his workplace with the folks from SNHU, bearing his diploma and SNHU gear for all.
“I know this has been a long road. I know you have achieved excellence in setting goals and being part of something bigger than yourself. I wanted to say congratulations personally,” Soldato told him. As Thomas placed a mortarboard on Wise’s head, Booz Allen Hamilton staff broke into a spontaneous hummed rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
The Westin – Alexandria, Va.
Last January, SNHU received an email from U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ed Caricato, from Alexandria, Virginia, asking if university staff planned to travel across the country again this summer as they had the summer before. If so, he wondered how he might nominate his wife to have her diploma delivered.
“As the spouse of an active-duty Marine, she has made many sacrifices over the last 17 years,” he wrote. “Specifically, she put her own education on hold as we moved all over the country.”
Caricato said his wife, Courtney, found SNHU in 2010 and had been a full-time online student since. He spoke to how phenomenal the program had been for her, “offering the challenge one would expect from a quality undergraduate degree program and the flexibility to balance her studies with all the other obligations of a military family.”
Incredibly proud of what his wife had accomplished, he knew how much she looked forward to traveling with her family to New Hampshire for graduation in May. However, due to Caricato’s military commitments, it wouldn’t be possible. The couple had been planning a special event – a “wet-down” party, a Marine Corps tradition – in celebration of Caricato’s promotion from major to lieutenant colonel, and had set a date in May in Alexandria. While the bus wouldn’t be traveling this year, SNHU staff members were able to work stealthily with Caricato to turn his party into a dual celebration, with surprise guests coming to present Courtney with her B.A. in English Language and Literature.
Shortly into the celebration, Caricato addressed their guests, including senior Marine Corps officers, service member friends and family, and invited his wife to join him at the front of the room. Acknowledging his wife’s dislike of calling attention to herself, he nevertheless felt her achievements deserved recognition and said that he wasn’t alone in feeling that way. In fact, he had some special guests there to see her. With that, military academic advisor Sandra Warren and Soldato arrived, laden with SNHU balloons, SNHU gear for the Caricatos and their guests and, most importantly, her framed diploma.
Soldato spoke of Courtney’s impressive achievements, noting how difficult it is for a military spouse at times and the dedication she demonstrated to her family and her country, all while earning magna cum laude academic distinction in completion of her degree. Warren was especially appreciative to finally meet Courtney and congratulate her on a job well done. Courtney was surprised and excited to have her diploma delivered in such a personal way.