SHAPE, Belgium – Despite long hours, being thousands of miles from U.S. soil and even a worldwide pandemic, dozens of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux employees and their Family members have accomplished their higher education goals over the last few years.
Many of those individuals were able to have those accomplishments publicly recognized for the first time this month.
U.S. Army Garrison Benelux held its first garrison-wide Commencement Celebration Oct. 14 at the SHAPE Cinema Alliance Auditorium to celebrate academic achievements earned since 2019.
“It’s a community celebration,” said Randy McNally, USAG Benelux education services officer. “It’s not just a celebration for the graduates…[it’s for] Family members, the supervisors that allow these people to take the time to do these things, all of that.”
“It takes a community to create academic success.”
During the ceremony, graduates were awarded with a Certificate of Achievement from the garrison commander and were able to walk across the graduation stage. Those who were unable to attend the ceremony still had their accomplishments recognized in the event’s program.
All together, 57 service members, veterans and Family members were recognized for accomplishments ranging from certifications, to decrees such as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and even doctoral.
“This one is very special,” McNally said. “We went through the high COVID situation here with lockdowns and other things, which presented a real problem for people that were going to school…I wanted to recognize what the community was able to support [during that time].”
While a large part of this event was recognizing achievements earned during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, McNally plans to make the graduation ceremony an annual event going forward.
In addition to allowing the garrison to celebrate those who already accomplished their academic programs, he said the ceremonies can help motivate others to achieve their dreams as well.
“What this also does, McNally said, “is it shows those who think that it’s hard, or that it’s impossible to do here – it awakens to them that you can do it.”
Sgt. Arnando Smith, USAG Benelux military police officer and the ceremony’s student speaker, agreed with McNally on the celebration’s importance.
“Being at this ceremony is the highlight [of graduating],” Smith said. “You see what your friends and other colleagues, who are in those hard-site colleges, are actually going through. When they walk through with their cap and gowns and all that other stuff for graduation, it’s like ‘wow, that’s pretty cool.’ And then we get to do that here, and it’s like the best of both worlds.”
Smith was recognized for earning both his associates and bachelor’s degrees during the ceremony.
He said he enjoyed getting to celebrate with his fellow graduates and seeing what others like him had accomplished.
“We all come from different backgrounds,” Smith said, “and you see that you’ve achieved what someone to your left and right – who’s a little different, a little more diverse – has also achieved, too. You set a milestone for yourself with your peers, who are different, but have the same achievement.”
Smith said he had witnessed the ceremony’s motivational effects first-hand.
“I have friends who are working, actually, on degrees now,” Smith said. “They said they want to work harder now so that next year, they’re going to be walking, too.”