Military-Connected Graduating Students Celebrate on USS Midway

Graduation is a special time for all students, but on Thursday afternoon, the University of San Diego’s Military and Veterans Program (MVP) took the celebration to new heights — literally.

2018 Military & Veteran Grad Celebration, USS Midway

Aboard the top deck of San Diego’s docked USS Midway ship, USD Veteran Student Services Coordinator Amanda Etter hosted a memorable program to recognize 30 military-connected students who will receive degrees this weekend on campus.

“We want to recognize the tremendous accomplishments of our military-connected graduates,” Etter said. “In addition to their service, many of them have overcome the challenges of being first-generation college students and balancing family obligations and employment while pursuing a college degree.”

Derek Abbey, senior director of the west and northwest regions for the Travis Manion Foundation and a current PhD student at USD, gave the keynote address. Abbey, who was in Etter’s current role prior to her arrival at USD this past fall, was delighted to be present for such a memorable celebration for graduating military-connected students.

“This is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like this,” the 23-year retired U.S. Marines veteran said. “You can go around the country and there are not institutions of higher education that celebrate their military-connected students with something like this.”

One of the 30 graduates honored on Thursday, Navy veteran Jennifer Castro Garcia, was selected to be the student speaker.  An economics major and a women’s and gender studies minor, Castro Garcia acknowledges the difficulty of entering college, but her passion and dedication to education as a first-generation college student while at the same time dedicating herself as a mother and to family made her an excellent choice as Thursday’s speaker.

“College life became one of the greatest and one of the most challenging adventures of my life. Many of us who’ve left the military, we left for reasons of seeking identity and purpose that we once had in the service. This is a tough task. Finding individuals who have the same understanding is something those in the military have struggled to find. But those who do find it thrive.”

Castro Garcia’s balancing act included finding a community on USD’s campus through the Veteran Center, which is located in Hahn University Center Room 225.

“We had to look toward each other for support, kinship and community. I found that when I discovered the Veteran Center on campus. I began showing up every day. I enjoyed the camaraderie, being able to talk to other veterans to share commonalities. I found my community. I found my home and, more importantly, I found myself.”

The Veteran Center “opened opportunities for me to get involved.,” she continued. “I began to feel a sense of gratification and confidence which I hadn’t been able to find until I found my community. We’ve completed this journey together. We’ve had our highs, we’ve had our lows and it was in those moments where we kept pushing through where we had the most hope.”

Following Castro Garcia’s talk, Etter had a special presentation. She invited four members of USD’s Associated Students, current president Will Tate, Shannan Conlon, Omar Arazia and Natasha Salgado, who recently was elected as USD’s 2018-19 AS President. Etter presented each of them with a special USD military coin as a gesture of thanks for their hard work and unwavering support for the Military and Veterans Program at USD.

From there, it was time to present the military-connected students with their beautiful, blue and white graduation stoles that will be worn during Sunday’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies.

The 30 graduates to receive stoles on Thursday were: Elizabeth Barker, Greg Barr, Jeffrey Bartrom, Richie Burgo, Dario Caminite, Jennifer Castro Garcia, Jhonnatan Chinchilla, Tommy Cota, Trey Croom, Michael Diaz, Austin Druda, Mackenzie Dulleck, Bryan Flores, Jennifer Givens, Richard Gardner, Reynaldo Hernandez, Joel Kuhn, Jeffrey LaRocco, Todd LeMay, Cameron Markowitz, Shane Milhoan, Daniel Myers, Shannon Ness, Logan Owens, Anthony Rivera, Andrew Stieb, Kellie Swannie, Shaun Thomson and Shearing Volkir.

Thursday’s event was the first of two involving USD students with a connection to the military. On Friday morning at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, the Naval Reserve Officers Training (NROTC) program will host its spring Commissioning Ceremony. Twelve USD graduates — five Marine and seven Navy — will be among 34 commissioned as Second Lieutenant (Marines) and Ensign (Navy) officers.

This spring, a total of 79 USD military-connected graduates will receive bachelor’s degrees, a number that includes active duty, veterans, spouses, dependents and Navy Reserve Officers Training Program (NROTC) members. Some completed their degree requirements mid-year but will participate in undergraduate ceremonies on Sunday.

For those unable to make it to Sunday’s graduation ceremonies in the JCP, the USD website will livestream both the College of Arts and Sciences graduation at 9 a.m. and the School of Business and Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering graduation at 2 p.m.

— Ryan T. Blystone


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