By Danielle DeSimone
For many, the moment you walk across the stage and receive your college diploma is an important one. It is so much more than simply wearing a gown or moving your cap’s tassel from one side to the other – it’s the moment when all of your hard work is finally recognized. As you take those steps across the stage, you’re also taking your first steps toward a new journey.
However, for some students, having that celebratory moment can be a challenge, especially if they attended an online university, like many members of military community have in recent years.
The USO teamed up with Southern New Hampshire University, the USO’s education partner, to provide two graduating service members with a special event and diploma delivery they won’t soon forget.
How the USO and SNHU Deliver Diplomas Around the Globe
Pursuing an online education makes perfect sense for members of the military community.
With moves every two to three years, deployments and constant change, being able to attend an online university provides service members and military spouses with the opportunity to pursue higher education anywhere on the globe, no matter where their service takes them.
For Air Force Sgt. Nicole Staller, who has been serving since 2010, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology while also serving as an active-duty service member has been a steppingstone for preparing for life after the military.
“It wasn’t until I took my first psychology class that I [understood] what track I needed to be on,” Staller said.
“From there I found myself at SNHU and here today. Although I plan to retire from the military, life doesn’t end there. It’s my hope to be able to do something psychology related when I separate [from service].”
Staller, who is currently stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, wasn’t sure if she would be able to have that classic, college graduation experience.
“I had been debating whether or not I could make the in-person ceremony at SNHU,” she said. “I wanted that ‘connection’ to college that I had never had, [to] get that experience.”
That’s why the USO and SNHU worked together to provide Staller, her loved ones and even her fellow service members with a moment to celebrate. This was especially poignant, as Staller credits her wife, family and her fellow airmen with her success. Having them all able to participate in a special graduation ceremony hosted by the USO made all the difference in Staller’s college experience.
“It’s actually a pretty cool experience,” she said, in reference to having her fellow airmen and members of the USO in attendance at her graduation ceremony.
“Some of them have heard the struggles of late-night discussion posts, or debates about what articles I should use for this or that paper.”
Staller was presented with her diploma while wearing a full cap and gown, surrounded by all of her supporters. Being able to celebrate this moment in person was a special moment for Staller.
“It actually, truly means a lot,” she said. “Now, working with the USO and SNHU, I can get that [college] experience … It feels absolutely amazing. I have worked really hard to get to this point.”
But Staller isn’t done yet. The airman plans seek a commission within the Air Force and continue with her educational goals, pursuing a graduate degree. For other service members considering pursuing an education while in the military, she has a few words of advice.
“Keep pushing,” she said. “It may seem like a lifetime away, but all your hard work will pay off in the end and you will be so proud of yourself.”
Across the country at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, another service member, Army Staff Sgt. Diana Tafoya, was also having a similar graduation ceremony of her own thanks to the USO and SNHU.
Her graduation ceremony – in which she wore a cap, gown and leis in honor of her Hawaiian duty station – was filled with loved ones and fellow service members, all who came out to support her in the latest chapter of her career.
Tafoya, who has served in the Army for seven years, earned a bachelor of science in business administration from SNHU.
While pursuing her degree, Tafoya discovered a love for human resource management, and immediately has already made plans to pursue her MBA.
How SNHU Partners with the USO to Support Our Nation’s Military
SNHU, which has its own rich history of serving America’s military, has partnered with the USO as the organization’s education partner since 2016.
In this role, SNHU delivers educational resources and opportunities that help men and women in uniform, as well as their spouses, throughout their military journey and as they transition back into civilian life. Since first partnering with the USO in 2016, SNHU has provided valuable support to the USO and has worked with the USO to award several military-affiliated learners with full-tuition scholarships.
From collaborating on events and programming at USO locations around the world, to offering academic guidance, financial literacy support and more, SNHU is a true Force Behind the Forces®.
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