By Bill ArmstrongDecember 29, 2008
FORT RILEY, Kan. - Walking toward a stage in cap and gown to receive a college degree was just a dream for Brandi Reynolds a year ago. The Fort Riley military spouse and her husband, Sgt. Benjamin Reynolds, a supply sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, both received degrees Dec. 19 at the post's commencement exercise at Riley's Conference Center.
"We have both worked really hard over the past year to complete our degrees and have them done at the same time," Brandi said.
She earned an associate degree in science, while her husband earned an associate degree of general studies. Both degrees came from Barton County Community College.
The couple joined about 90 other Soldiers, Family members, Department of the Army civilians and retirees as graduates in the 42nd semiannual commencement event on post.
Graduates wore color-coded caps and gowns representing their specific institutions. Conferring degrees on stage were representatives of Central Michigan University, University of Mary, Upper Iowa University, Southwestern College, Central Texas College, Barton County Community College and Service Members Opportunity Colleges.
The 1st Infantry Division Band Brass Quintet provided holiday music just before the ceremony began. Kenneth Steggeman, Fort Riley's director of human resources, introduced Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general of 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley, for his commencement address to graduates, friends and Family members.
"By graduating today, you have taken a big step toward becoming leaders among those in our ranks," Wiggins said. "You have taken the initiative to further yourselves, showing self discipline and motivation. You are an inspiration and a role model for us all."
Education Services coordinates two such ceremonies each year, with one in December and the other in May or June, said Gary Thompson, education technician and test control officer with Education Services.
"It's just a way that we celebrate Soldiers' and Family members' educational goals and a way to put some closure on finishing up their degrees," Thompson said. "It might be the ending point for some people, but just a way to kick off moving up to the next notch for other people. It's just a way to acknowledge them publicly to their friends, Families or their chain of command."
More than 150 graduates' names appeared on the ceremony's program, but because of deployments, permanent changes of stations or other reasons, many were not able to attend.
Fort Riley's offerings of higher learning opportunities continue to appeal to Brandi Reynolds. Reynolds' class time flexibility fits her schedule because of her day-time job as a customer service representative at Barton County Community College's Fort Riley office.
"There are so many opportunities available here at Fort Riley for Soldiers and for Family members," she said. "Without that, I wouldn't have been able to earn my degree. Here, I'm able to take night classes, and I can do online classes."
Brandi will move up to the next notch in January when she starts work on a bachelor of arts in elementary education through Southwestern College.
Education Services allows others who graduated from colleges or universities not found on Fort Riley to walk in the ceremony. In the recent past, one graduate walked who received a degree from a German university. In the Dec. 19 ceremony, graduates of Ashford University and the University of Phoenix were able to walk in cap and gown.
Thompson began setting up the December ceremony in August. In January, he'll start work on the next one.