Out of the nearly 17,500 graduates to be honored at Liberty University's 41st Commencement on Saturday, over 5,000 — nearly 30 percent — are active, reserve, or retired military.
During Friday night’s third annual Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony held at the Vines Center, members of Liberty’s administration instilled in those graduates a healthy sense of pride in their accomplishments of completing their degrees, whether on campus or online, stateside or in active duty overseas.
“This is a very special ceremony and I do hope that all of your friends and loved ones feel a justifiable level of pride in acknowledging and recognizing your accomplishments on this day,” said Dr. Ben Gutierrez, Liberty’s administrative dean for undergraduate programs, in his welcome to the approximately 200 military graduates on hand and hundreds more family and friends in attendance. “You will find no more grateful institution for your valor, for your honor, and for your commitment than Liberty University. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.”
Service members were seated together with their respective branches and stood as each was recognized in the playing of the “Caisson Song.”
After a prayer of dedication by Dean of Students and former 1st Lt. Keith Anderson, U.S. Army, Gutierrez introduced Maj. Gen. Robert Dees, U.S. Army, retired, who serves as Liberty’s associate vice president for military outreach and is the director of our nation’s first faith-based Institute for Military Resilience.
“The whole leadership of Liberty University believes in you and is invested in the military in many ways,” Dees said, citing in particular Liberty’s Office of Military Affairs. “These people perform a labor of love and it’s a labor of love on your behalf.”
He applauded the military graduates for going above and beyond the call of duty by earning their degrees.
“You have selflessly served your nation at home and abroad, often at the risk of your very lives, and I honor you and I thank you,” Dees said. “We value that. We appreciate that. In addition to that, you have taken on the task of improving your education, not only for yourselves, but also for those you serve, your families and other loved ones.”
He called on the graduates to maintain their faith in the midst of a dark world, in the same manner that military chaplain Robert Preston Taylor did upon reporting to the Philippines in 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Taylor soon found himself on the Bataan Death March along with 56,000 soldiers captured by the Japanese, starting in April 1942.
“He was a man of God and he put steel into the backbones of those prisoners who were marching along,” Dees said.
Taylor was placed in solitary confinement after being caught consulting with the local guerrillas to provide medical supplies to his unit.
“He wasted away for days and weeks and finally, they let him out and a couple of his fellow prisoners held him up,” Dees said. “Even in his emaciated state, they said, ‘Chaplain, do you have a good word for us?’ And the chaplain, true to form, said, ‘Do not forget in the dark what you believed in the light.’
“You’re getting ready to go away from here,” Dees continued. “You’ve been in the light of Liberty University, the lamp of learning. Now, you’re going to go into another chapter of life where … in the world, you will have tribulation, but Jesus said, ‘I have overcome the world.’ So, the challenge from me to you tonight, in your military service and the rest of your lives, is not to doubt in the dark what you know to be true in the light, the light of Jesus Christ.”
Appropriately, Friday was also Military Spouse Appreciation Day, recognized across the United States. Several members of the graduating class are actually spouses of members of the military as well as serving in active duty themselves. Both servicemen and women and their wives and husbands in attendance were recognized with the presentation of commemorative coins.
Each graduate was handed a coin that honors their service in the military and the completion of their respective degrees. The coins were presented by Liberty’s administrators and faculty who have served in the United States Armed Forces: Maj. Gen. Robert E. Dees, U.S. Army, retired; Lt. Col. David R. Dinsmore, U.S. Army, retired; Lt. Col. Stephen M. Parke, U.S. Army, retired; 1st Lt. Keith R. Anderson, U.S. Army, discharged; Maj. Barry N. Moore, U.S. Marine Corps, retired; Capt. Todd R. Campo, U.S. Marine Corps, discharged; Capt. Ernie Rogers, U.S. Navy, retired; Lt. Darren C. Wu, U.S. Navy, discharged; Brig. Gen. David L. Young, U.S. Air Force, retired; and Lt. Col. Robert B. Young, U.S. Air Force, retired.
Earlier in the day, Liberty held two special commissioning ceremonies for its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs in the Towns-Alumni Lecture Hall. The Liberty Eagle Battalion Army ROTC and Liberty’s U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 890 each celebrated their graduating cadets as they were sworn in as second lieutenants in their respective branches. As is tradition, each cadet was presented with a pin signifying their rank and then received their first salute.
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Army:
Strom Carter, nursing
Samuel Cassidy, military intelligence
Kyle Childress, field artillery
Joshua Clark, aviation
Emmanuel Cobb, medical services
Jonathan Hopper, aviation
Neidy James, transportation
Jeremy Jefferson, engineer
Brian Keefer, aviation
Brandon Kelley, ordnance
John Lees, transportation
Evan Lockwood, chemical
Scott Mckinney, chemical
Jack Meadows, transportation
Kaitlyn Penn , nursing
Mathew Porter, medical services
Joshua Smith, aviation
Tyler Turgeau, infantry
Joshua Warner, armor
David Winne, ordnance
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force:
Tyler Arnold, remote pilot aircraft
Caleb Bliesner, pilot
Nicole Daniel, munitions maintenance
John Graves, missile operations
Daniel Moore, air battle manager
Kyle Moore, air field operations
Mark Schissler Jr., pilot
Nicholas Washok, intelligence