FORT BLISS, Texas (Army News Service, May 15, 2009) -- Sgt. Maj. Francisco Cervantes fulfilled a 20-year dream May 7 at the Baccalaureate ceremony for the Sergeants Major Academy's 59th graduating class.

There was definitely reason to celebrate, said Cervantes, referring to more than 290 academic degrees issued during the ceremony, including 65 master's degrees. Cervantes received a bachelor's degree in liberal studies.

In 1988, the native of El Paso received a presidential scholarship to attend the University of Texas at El Paso after graduating from Bel Air High School. Coincidently, he said, the ceremony's guest speaker, Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of UTEP, was also one of the keynote speakers at his high school graduation. In Natalicio's address to the sergeants major, she spoke about the importance of visualizing a dream, then pursuing it and ultimately realizing it.

"When she became president of UTEP, I was graduating from high school here in 1988," said Cervantes. "I can definitely associate with that dream concept that she's talking about - continuously to grow, incrementally build and continue to build from those accomplishments you achieve along the way. As I listened to her [talk] about her journey, it really reminded me of listening to her the first time as I heard her speak at our commencement. It is a very unique thing to be able to have that connection of back then to now."

Cervantes said he had two dreams when he graduated high school: to pursue a college degree and join the Army. Initially, he started college at UTEP, but after the first semester, he dropped out and enlisted in the Army.

"Something that we've worked hard to achieve, we sometimes forget that it started with a dream," said Natalicio. "That each of us has dreams. And sometimes it seems like it will be forever before we can achieve them. But graduations are proof positive that they come true."

More than 80 percent of the 296 degrees awarded were bachelor's and master's degrees. Natalicio commended the sergeants major for achieving their educational goals and said she was energized by their dedication and commitment.

"For me as an educator, graduation is the proof positive of success - it is the embodiment of success in our business," said Natalicio.

Command Sgt. Major David Yates, course director for the sergeants major course, said a civilian education coupled with a military curriculum prepares Soldiers for today's dynamic battlefield.

"The battlefield has changed so much," said Yates. "They've got to encompass everything when they get out to the field. When they get out to be partners with those majors and lieutenant colonels, they speak the same language."

Sgt. Maj. Kevin Oakes, also from Class 59, was awarded a Masters in Leadership Studies from UTEP. He said he benefited from the opportunity of attending classes at the UTEP campus with fellow Soldiers and students, which differs from a distance-learning setting.

"That brought a whole new meaning to my college degree, having some of the college campus experience - and I think I'm better off for it," said Oakes.

(Maj. Deanna Bague serves with Fort Bliss Public Affairs.)