A Surprise Graduation Ceremony for an EKU Online Military Student

Lt. Amy Blades-Langjahr stopped by the Eastern Kentucky University campus to visit the professors and staff who supported her throughout her EKU Online degree program. The 21-year veteran of the United States Navy had recently completed her bachelor’s degree in fire, arson and explosion investigation. She hoped to walk across the stage on graduation day, but her plans changed.

Military obligations, including a transfer from Virginia to Washington made that impossible. Instead, she added Richmond, Kentucky to the itinerary during their cross-country move. At least she could shake her professors’ hands and introduce everyone to her family.

It had been four years since the first telephone conversation with Christy Templeton, her EKU Online advisor. When Christy asked her questions about her goals, Amy explained her desire to earn a degree, advance in military rank and plan for a second career in a fire marshal division. She also shared another dream . . . she wanted to be a mom.

Christy reviewed her coursework and her goals. She created a personalized graduation plan that could be altered if work or family situations needed to take priority from time to time.  

Amy continued working full time. She completed her fire science courses and moved on to studying math, chemistry and legal issues. The best part of the online learning experience was working side-by-side with her professors and mentors during on-campus residencies. Her first trip to campus was in the summer of 2017. Throughout the week, she and her fellow online learners explored a mock fire scene, determining the cause and origin of the event and documenting their findings. The following summer, they returned to campus to focus on preparing a case for trial.   

EKU staff and faculty got to know Amy well thanks to these on-campus experiences. Then she would return home and continue to stay connected through online discussion boards, phone calls and the regular exchange of Christmas cards.

EKU is a student focused university with a long history as a military friendly school. When Amy called to arrange her visit, Christy had an idea. She knew Amy had cancelled plans to attend the university graduation ceremony in December and May because military obligations conflicted each time.

Could the faculty and staff pull off a surprise graduation ceremony? She contacted the president’s office, the bookstore and numerous other offices across campus.

A few weeks later, Amy was in her cap and gown marching in to Posey Auditorium behind five of her professors. In his remarks, Dr. Victor Kappeler, dean of the College of Justice & Safety explained that the EKU Online degree programs were created for graduates just like her, “One of the gifts of an online program is that people who are place-bound because of work commitments, family commitments or service to their country can achieve their goals,” he said.

Staff from the EKU Office of Military and Veteran Affairs bestowed Amy with the red, white and blue cord representing her military service. Dr. Tom Thurman, one of her professors and a veteran of the United States Army enthusiastically presented her with the EKU VETS challenge coin honoring her academic achievement.

As each person spoke, Amy’s oldest daughter, Riley, happily toddled on and off the stage and played with the EKU Online advising staff. Her younger sister, Kenzi, was in the front row with their dad.  

“We aren’t just a school. We are a family,” Christy said as she addressed the audience. “As students enter EKU, they are welcomed into that family. Today, we celebrate with you and welcome you into the EKU alumni family. ”

The room broke into applause and the graduate beamed as she accepted her degree and moved the tassel on her cap from right to left.

Afterward, Amy remembered feeling that her professors were as proud of her as she was of herself. Everyone in attendance was thrilled to see her achieve her goals. Of the impromptu ceremony, she said, “It was very heartfelt and very much appreciated.”

Published on May 07, 2019