During June, 176 students who are active members of the military or veterans of the United States Armed Forces graduated as part of the record-setting SUNY Empire State College class of 2012. In total, more than 3,400 students graduated from the college this spring. In 2011-2012 the college served more than 1,500 military personnel or veteran students.
The college’s veteran and military students wore a red, white and blue cord in recognition of their service to the country and were presented with a coin by the college as a token of appreciation.
“I am honored to lead a military-friendly institution,” said Meg Benke, provost and vice president of academic affairs and officer-in-charge for the college. “The flexibility offered by the college makes it easier for active members of the military, veterans and busy people in general to learn and to earn a degree regardless of time of day or location. Helping students, especially our veterans and active members of the military, to achieve their goals is what public higher education is all about.”
“Without SUNY Empire State College I could not have completed my degree,” said First Sergeant James Bryant, who spoke at the college’s Central New York region graduation. Bryant was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation and during his remarks joked that he came up with a new excuse not to do his homework, saying, “My textbook got blown up.”
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve and support our military and veteran students throughout the duration of their degree programs,” said Linda Frank, director of the college’s Office of Veteran and Military Education and a past president of the Council of College and Military Educators. “We congratulate the 176 military and veteran students that graduated this year, and we wish them continued success in their careers or in furthering their education beyond their current degree."
Veteran student Nathaniel Simmons, Metropolitan Center
Also graduating this year was Iraq War veteran and 2012 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence Ryan Smithson, from the Northeast Center, who was instrumental in the college’s production of “War Stories,” held this year at Proctors theatre in Schenectady. He also is the author of “Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI”.
About Ryan Smithson
Ryan Smithson earned a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in English and history.
He was the recipient of the Nicholas Pekearo Endowed Scholarship in Creative Writing for a student who is committed to writing and has a body of work. Smithson is the author of “Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI,” published by Harper Collins in 2009.
The book is a cathartic memoir that recounts his personal experiences in Iraq, which he was prompted to write because he believes the media tells only “half the story” about the GI experience. The book was reviewed and received a star in Kirkus Reviews, and was noted as a “lucid recounting of the intensity of battle and the pain of losing comrades,” which for Smithson was a source of personal enlightenment. The book has been called “deeply penetrating, remarkable and compelling.”
Ryan Smithson and his family at the 2012 Northeast Center Graduation
Smithson is an inductee of the Alumni Hall of Fame at Columbia High School in East Greenbush in recognition of his accomplishments after high school. He joined the Army Reserve immediately after graduation, when he was 17; at 19, he was deployed to Iraq, where he served as an Army engineer for 12 months.
About First Sergeant James L. Bryant
First Sergeant James L. Bryant was born in Baltimore,Md. He graduated from Pikesville High School in May 1998 and entered the United States Army shortly thereafter.
He graduated from communication training at Fort Gordon,Ga.as a signal support system specialist.
Military and Veteran Graduates at the Centeral New York Center Graduation
Bryan has an associate degree in general studies through Central Texas Community College and graduated Empire State College with a Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics.
Bryant’s stateside tours have included Fort Hood, Tx.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Fort Knox, Ky; and Fort Drum, N.Y.
He has deployed to Korea, Kuwait (Operation Enduring Freedom), Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom I and III) and Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom 10-11).
James Bryant addressing graduates at the Central New York Center Graduation
Bryant’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal (2 Oak Leaf Cluster), Meritorious Service Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Army Commendation Medal (4 Oak Leaf Cluster), Army Achievement Medal (2 Oak Leaf Cluster), President Unit Citation Award, Meritorious Unit Citation Award, Good Conduct Medal (fourth medal), National Defense Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (one campaign star) Iraq Campaign Medal (two campaign stars), and nearly 30 other medals, service ribbons and badges.
The college was named a Military Friendly School by GI Jobs magazine in 2011 and during 2012 the college created a graduate certificate in veterans services, which is designed to provide professionals with additional education and skills to meet the needs of veterans in accessing available social services such as health care, education, employment and housing.
About SUNY Empire State College
SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 to offer adult learners the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York.
In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout her or his college career. Students engage in guided independent study and course work onsite, online or a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to learn at the time, place and pace they choose.
The college serves more than 20,000 students worldwide at more than 35 locations in New York state and online. Its 63,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.
Additional information about the college is available here.