The Veterans Graduation Salute of 2018 held on April 5, 2018, at the Terrace in Paramus, NJ, celebrated the achievements of 59 student-veterans who are graduating from Berkeley College and transitioning into civilian careers. This year’s salute also included the inaugural induction of 26 student-veterans into the military-aligned honor society SALUTE, acknowledging their academic achievements.
“We salute each of our military and veteran students who have served our nation,” said Michael J. Smith, President of Berkeley College. “We salute the families of our military and veteran students and all of the military families here this evening,” he added. Acknowledging the College’s commitment to offer the best teaching and learning experiences for all students, President Smith noted the ranking of Berkeley College by U.S. News & World Report as a top college for offering the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans.
“At Berkeley College, students write their own stories,” President Smith said. “The story of our veteran and military students is one of courage, of selflessness, of service, and one of transition – from military service to civilian life. We expect you to accelerate yourselves and start by being strong leaders.”
Edward Dennis, Associate Vice President, Berkeley College Office of Military and Veterans Affairs introduced the keynote speaker, Eric Stetson, Northeast Regional Director, FourBlock Foundation and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. The mission of the nonprofit FourBlock Foundation is to prepare transitioning veterans for successful careers.
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Mr. Stetson thanked Berkeley College for the privilege to address the gathering. “You understand diversity, the value of our veterans. The impact of senior leaders along with the veterans in civilian life adds to the strength of our nation,” he said.
Alba Pagan (photo, above), Health Services Administration, Class of 2018, was the student speaker. Ms. Pagan enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2010 and eventually became part of an electrical engineering team of 10 firefighters aboard a ship. As a sailor, she struggled to overcome her own anxiety and others’ preconceived notions about her capabilities. Following an incident when her prompt response to an explosion and fire on the ship demonstrated her strength, conviction and commitment, others began to show Ms. Pagan the respect she deserved.
Four months after she completed her service, she enrolled at Berkeley College. “It was frightening to go into New York City to school,” she said. “But the Veterans Resource Center felt good. I was grateful.”
The Veterans Resource Center provides a location for veterans to receive information about their VA benefits; meet with the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs; socialize with other veterans; and obtain booklets, pamphlets, and other materials about a wide range of veteran benefits and issues. There are five such centers at various Berkeley College campuses and online.
Ms. Pagan continued to accomplish her goals, graduating with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Health Services Administration in 2016. She immediately continued her enrollment at Berkeley College, while caring for her young son and working. This year she graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in the same field.
“You can overcome barriers one at a time, one step at a time,” Ms. Pagan said. “I am still learning to slow my thoughts, but I have learned to put the energy from my anxiety to good use. Since my second semester, I have had better academics. I am on the Dean’s or the President’s lists, and have been inducted into three honor societies.” To read more about Ms. Pagan and how she views success, click here.
Joseph Charleman, CST, CSFA, CRCST, LPN, Chair (photo, above), Surgical Technology, Berkeley College School of Health Studies, received the Faculty Recognition award. Mr. Charleman served four years of active duty in the U.S. Army and four years in the U.S. Army Reserve. In addition to his mentoring students and veterans at Berkeley College, he has volunteered on many medical missions with Healing the Children® New Jersey, helping underprivileged children and families in other countries in need of surgical procedures.
“The beauty of healthcare is making a difference,” Mr. Charleman said. “Bringing the Berkeley College team on a medical mission is a transcendent mission for my life as a surgical technologist. Thank you to all of the graduates for what you have done and for being part of this family.”
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Two additional initiatives supported by Berkeley College and its OMVA were present at the Veterans Graduation Salute of 2018. One was an onsite canine companion named Skyla. Skyla is an emotional support dog in training who joined the OMVA staff to assist veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression or panic attacks. The other is the Veterans/Gold Star Reflections Project, which includes photo posters of veterans who served throughout the years. The work depicts self-reflections of who these individuals were in the military and who they are in their civilian life, underneath the uniform.
From 2011 through 2017, 746 military and veteran students have graduated from Berkeley College, earning a total of 829 degrees. Since 2009, approximately 40% of the military and veteran students at Berkeley College graduated and earned higher-level degrees at the College.
Photo Captions: Top: The Veterans Graduation Salute of 2018 celebrated the achievements of 59 student-veterans who are graduating from Berkeley College and transitioning into civilian careers. This year’s salute also included the inaugural induction of 26 student-veterans into the military-aligned honor society SALUTE, acknowledging their academic achievements. Middle: Speakers and guests at the Berkeley College Veterans Graduation Salute of 2018 shared the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Berkeley College student-veterans. Standing, left to right, are keynote speaker, Eric Stetson, Northeast Regional Director, FourBlock Foundation and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel; Aaron S. Fernandez, Captain, U.S. Army; Edward Dennis, Associate Vice President, Berkeley College Office of Military and Veterans Affairs; and Michael J. Smith, President of Berkeley College.Bottom: Two additional initiatives of the Berkeley College Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (OMVA) include (left) Skyla, an onsite emotional support canine in training, with owner, Tami Pichardo, Senior Director, OMVA, and the Veterans/Gold Star Reflections Project (right). These pictures depict self-reflections of who these individual veterans were when they were in the military and who they are in their civilian life, underneath the uniforms.
Click here to view more photos from the Veterans Graduation Salute of 2018.