FORT SILL, Okla., May 3, 2018 -- Families, friends, command teams, organization leaders, and educators of 218 graduates gathered at Cache Creek Chapel, April 26, for a graduation convocation ceremony. The event recognized Soldiers, family members, and civilians who completed a degree between June 2017 to May this year.

Michael Dodds, Education Services officer, said during the opening remarks, they were gathered that evening to celebrate the graduates because they decided to to something more with their lives by completing their studies.

"Yes, it wasn't easy, but they stayed the course," Dodds said. "They persevered; they overcame any obstacles ... but it didn't stop them from reaching their goals."

Dodd's address was followed by a student testimonial by Capt. Jean Tomte, 5th Battalion, 5th Defense Artillery. When he first began using the services offered by Fort Sill Education Services, he was a young enlisted Soldier. Tomte began bettering himself with courses offered at Harry S Truman Education Center and worked closely with education advisers on how to improve himself.

That evening, Tomte was among the graduates who walked the stage. He graduated with a masters degree in procurement and acquisitions management from Webster University.

During his address, he said when he first came to America from Cameroon, he only had one thing on his mind: the will to succeed. He described his journey of improving himself to be riddled with hardships.

"Messing up is not the end, it's the beginning on a new phase," Tomte said. "All this negativity was my call to keep pushing forward no matter what. Hard work and determination lead to success; the toughest route always leads to the best view."

After Tomte, keynote speaker Air Defense Artillery Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Finish Dodson delivered a speech about education excellence.

"So many times in today's society, people halt in achieving their goals soon after they start for numerous reasons," Dodson said. "Now you (graduates) are sitting here reminiscing on all the sacrifice and determination which led to your degree completion."

Among the graduates who graced the stage that evening was Kimberly Kinard, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Prince Kinard. She graduated with an associate's of science in business administration from Columbia College.

"I was proud; I was smiling from ear to ear," Prince said.

Kimberly also works full time on post as an administrative support assistant at Child and Youth Services. Apart from juggling her job and studying for college, she sometimes assumes the role of both parents when her husband is away for duty.

"Like 95 percent of the time since I've been in this (job) position that I'm in, she's done a lot of stuff by herself: getting the kids ready to school, going to work, going to school after work," Prince said. "She never missed a class day and I'm always TDY (on temporary duty). I'm really, really proud of her that she was able to stick through it."

The journey to education excellence does not stop here for Kimberly. She plans on progressing with her education.

"I'm going to finish my bachelor's degree," she said.