Liberty honors veteran students during NASCAR race
Over Memorial Day Weekend, Liberty University honored two of its own at the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Before the Sunday night race, Rawlings School of Divinity Associate Dean Troy Temple and Liberty’s Vice President of Development Chris Carroll held a small degree ceremony for recent graduate Roberto Valentin, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who missed Commencement earlier this month to attend his daughter’s Army Commissioning ceremony at Fort Valley State University. Their story recently went viral in a video that was picked up by several media outlets, including USA Today.
Dressed in regalia, Temple presented Valentin with his degree in a special frame and his green alumni cords. Liberty junior and NASCAR driver William Byron was also in attendance for the ceremony and posed for pictures with Valentin and his two sons.
“Your sacrifice did not go unnoticed,” Temple said to Valentin. “Even though we missed you at Commencement, you honored us by making the right decision as a dad, not just as a graduate. You stand as an example to us not only in service to your country, but with your family.”
Carroll told Valentin that his daughter, Keila Outen, had contacted their office to see if there was any way they could do something for him at the race, making the day extra special.
Valentin said he was in awe to be honored by his alma mater, especially at one of the biggest races of the year.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the last thing I expected,” he said. “I’m in awe. I love being part of Liberty, and it represents everything we are (as believers).”
Valentin enrolled in Liberty’s online program while he and his wife, Brendaliz, were stationed in Germany. He earned an associate degree in general studies before pursing his bachelor’s degree in religion.
“I really liked how Liberty ran its program,” Valentin said.
He said that he loves being part of Liberty’s military community and what the university does for its military students and spouses, such as special events like the Military Spouse Recognition ceremony that takes place during Commencement weekend. (Valentin attended the ceremony when his wife graduated in 2017.)
“I think it’s awesome,” Valentin said. “There are so many military students, and they’re all so connected with one another.”
Valentin said he hopes to pursue working in local ministry at their church in Cummings, Ga., with his newly earned degree.
During the race, Liberty also honored the memory of U.S. Air Force Captain Mark Weber, a Liberty student who was killed in a helicopter crash in March 2018 while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. The Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 sported a patriotic paint scheme and Weber’s name as part of an annual tradition of the holiday weekend race. Weber’s family attended the race and were special guests of the university.
Weber’s father, Ron, said they were humbled that Liberty chose to honor their son during the race.
“It was touching to not only see Mark’s name, but the names of others who had given their lives on the cars,” Ron Weber said. “It was a tremendous day to experience that we will remember for the rest of our lives.”
After becoming the youngest driver to win the pole at the Coca-Cola 600, Byron went on to finish the race in the top ten.