By Sandi Gohn
When Army Staff Sgt. Tyler White first decided to pursue his online Master of Science in information technology from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in the fall of 2018, he knew it would be a demanding - but rewarding - experience.
White, who had just graduated from SNHU that prior spring with a Bachelor of Science in geoscience, had reasonable expectations of the need to balance his schoolwork with his Army career, family responsibilities and personal wellbeing. He knew it would be hard and that he would be tired, but never anticipated how truly challenging everything would eventually become.
Just after starting his master’s degree studies, White received orders to relocate with his wife and son to South Korea. There, White was assigned to a 12-hour nightshift, working five-to-six days a week. Still, White persisted with his studies, somehow finding time to be a somewhat-rested student, soldier, husband and dad.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, White says everything changed.
Because both White and his wife were considered essential employees, they both had to continue physically going to their job sites to work. White would go to work at night, and his wife would go to work during the day. However, due to COVID-19-related childcare closures, White now had to stay up during the day to watch their son until his wife finished work at 4:00 p.m. This left him little time to sleep, let alone study.
White says it was during this grueling time - when he was a full-time parent, student and solider - that his Army team, specifically his squad of five soldiers, helped keep him going.
“They were the people asking me about my classes and how school was going. It motivated me because I didn’t want to let them down,” White wrote in an email to SNHU.
They were the ones who held my nose to the grindstone and didn’t let me quit.
So, when White finally completed his degree this summer, he reached out to SNHU to ask them to mail his degree to South Korea so he and his entire team could celebrate together.
“While I may have done the work, it was the team that got me here. I want my team to be there when I get the diploma, and I want them to know how much of a role they played in this,” he wrote.
These soldiers went above and beyond the superior-subordinate roles the Army put us in to make sure I finished. While my name is on it, this is our diploma, and it should be presented as such.
When the SNHU team received White’s email and read his story of perseverance, teamwork and resilience, they knew they had to do something special for the solider and his squad, in addition to sending over the diploma. So, SNHU reached out to the USO, who has had a partnership with the university since 2016, to create a special moment for White, his team and his family.
“Sgt. Tyler White is an extraordinary student who earned two SNHU degrees while serving in the armed forces,” said Victoria White, of SNHU’s Military Initiatives Team. “Despite the challenges of frequent relocation and raising a family, he was able to complete his master’s degree through true perseverance and grit, and the entire SNHU community could not be more proud.”
On Sept. 21, the USO Camp Humphrey’s team in South Korea hosted a special graduation celebration for White and his supporters.
The event kicked off with a small diploma presentation ceremony for White, his wife and his company commander at the 8th U.S. Army Headquarters on base. Then the small group headed to the USO, where White was presented his diploma again in front of his larger team, who had supported him throughout his studies.
During the event at the USO, White took a moment to thank his teammates, family and all those who helped him earn his degree.
“It feels great to be able to share this with everybody,” White said. “My wife [was] a big supporter, but at the same time, my troops and my leadership here in the unit were priceless. I couldn’t have done this without them. They gave me a lot of the time and flexibility to get done what I needed to for school so that my head could be at the task at work while I was there.”
After White’s speech, everyone at the party enjoyed cake and took photos to mark the occasion. White was even able to wear his academic regalia during festivities, which SNHU sent him in addition to his official diploma.
“I did the whole school at a distance away from what a lot of traditional brick and mortar schools will be able to offer,” White said. “So, having done everything at distance, it’s kind of cool to get that same ending that you would get somewhere else, also at distance.”
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