November 23, 2015
SNHU went around the world to make surprise diploma deliveries to members of our military community that couldn't attend graduation. With the help of students' families and biggest supporters, we surprised them at home, at work, and on base, all to help them celebrate their big moment.
At Southern New Hampshire University, we understand and respect the enormous sacrifices our military servicemembers and their families make on behalf of our country. SNHU is a staunch supporter of initiatives that lend support to military families and veterans, partnering with Operation Homefront, Run to Home Base and SoldierStrong.
With an 80-year history of helping military servicemembers and their families pursue an education, at home and abroad, we provide tuition savings of up to 30 percent for active-duty servicemembers and their spouses. A GI Jobs Military Friendly® School since 2009, SNHU was ranked among the top 10 “Best for Vets” in early November by Military Times.
In the spring of 2014, SNHU went around the world to celebrate the success of graduates in our military community — an active-duty sailor, two military spouses and a veteran. All were members of the SNHU Class of 2014, who were not able to attend commencement in New Hampshire. Read on for a look at the graduates we had the honor to celebrate, both in person and virtually.
In Oceanside, California, former SNHU military academic advisor Jessica Higgins surprised military spouse Renee Miles with her B.S. in Business Studies diploma at her home.
For 20 years, Miles supported her husband Tom’s military career, and it was only in recent years that she went back to school for her own advancement. Her husband, a former gunnery sergeant involved in communication security, was deployed twice to Iraq, in 2003 and 2008. Living in Athol, Massachusetts, with their three children, Miles excitedly anticipated walking across the stage at SNHU’s 2014 Commencement in Manchester, New Hampshire, to receive her undergraduate diploma.
Tom, who Miles says is her biggest supporter, retired from the U.S. Marines in January 2014, and the family relocated to California to be closer to her family. (Her father, Oscar Soto, had retired from the U.S. Air Force on the same day as her husband.) While the families were delighted to reunite, Higgins knew how heartbroken Miles was that she could not walk as planned at commencement. SNHU reached out to Tom Miles, who couldn’t have been more excited to help create a special day for his wife.
The Miles and Soto families gathered poolside just prior to Higgins’ arrival. Tom Miles told his wife how proud they all were that she completed her degree and acknowledged how tough it had been at times, with his deployments, being alone with the kids, working and, finally, moving across the country.
“We know you couldn’t go there and get your diploma and walk like everybody else; we got the next best thing,” he said. “So, we got some people here. They want to see you.”
Then Higgins appeared, walking into the Mileses’ backyard, laden with SNHU balloons, followed by other university staff bearing a framed diploma, a graduation cake and some SNHU spirit items for the family. Miles was overwhelmed and very appreciative. She may not have gotten to walk across that stage, but she received her diploma with her biggest supporters there, celebrating her achievement.
The Mileses aren’t just a military family; they’re now a SNHU family as well. After seeing his wife’s experience earning her bachelor’s online with SNHU, and the service and support she had throughout, Tom Miles enrolled in a master’s program soon after. As for Renee, she recently decided to return for her master’s, too – of course, online with SNHU.
As graduates began filing into the arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, for commencement May 10, 2014, another SNHU graduation ceremony had concluded overseas. The graduate was active-duty sailor Trevor Methena, who earned his B.S. in Business Studies with a concentration in Computer Information Technology and was not able to attend ceremonies stateside. SNHU staff discussed creating a surprise graduation ceremony with Trevor’s wife, Monica, who couldn’t have been more excited to jump in and help make it happen.
An IT1 for Command Logistics Western Pacific in the 7th Fleet in Singapore, Methena had a year of many accomplishments – finishing his degree program, becoming a new father and being named Sailor of the Year for his region. He was also the command fitness leader, which his wife said is almost unheard of for someone of his rank.
While she acknowledges it took her husband a while to complete his degree, she said, “He powered through and never let go of his objectives.” Already planning for civilian life, the Methenas have established a business back home in Texas – PRISM CrossFit – and Methena said the knowledge obtained as he earned his degree would serve him well in his career.
As a U.S. Navy servicemember, Methena never questioned why he was being asked to report to a specific location one morning, although he did wonder why his commanding officer asked him to change into a less casual uniform. His assumption was that high-ranking visitors were due. It wasn’t until his young son made an appearance from a side office that he started to wonder what was up. He didn’t have time to wonder long though, as Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud, commander of COMLOG WESTPAC, entered the room filled with service members and quickly turned her attention to Methena.
“You were here, you had a baby, you were Sailor of the Year and did all the academic work, long distance. That is pretty impressive. I want to congratulate you,” Thebaud said.
Methena was so stunned by his surprise graduation ceremony; he simply stood still as his wife placed his mortarboard on his head. Equally surprising was receiving his SNHU diploma from his commander, who said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Methena came to SNHU via a recommendation from a colleague and has in turn recommended the university to others in the military. He recalled communicating with military advisor Autumn Earnshaw Fillion and how great it was to have support from a team of military veterans.
SNHU staff traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Gary Soldato, LTC, U.S. Army (Ret.), and assistant vice president of the university’s military initiatives, presented U.S. Army veteran Derald Wise with his B.S. in Game Programming and Development diploma. SNHU Career advisor Kendra Thomas, also a U.S. Army veteran, joined him. Wise works at Fort Bragg and has assisted SNHU Career with internships through his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton.
Wise, who lived in Dallas at the time, said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks profoundly impacted him and his brothers. Like their father and his father before him, the brothers entered military service. As Wise transitioned to civilian life in more recent years, the military had begun using a video game called Virtual Battle Space 2 to help train soldiers and Marines for combat. While it was still a relatively new concept, Wise was offered a job designing scenarios for the military. This led to his job at Fort Bragg as the lead VBS2 developer for the XVIII ABN CORPS.
Although he had solid skills in place, his employer encouraged him to finish his bachelor’s degree to ensure he had the education to back his experience. Wise began researching game design degrees and discovered SNHU.
“What got me going was a little bit family, a little bit Jim [his manager] here at Booz Allen Hamilton, and wanting to finish what I started,” said Wise. “It’s unusual for someone to be in game design without the education, and I know this will open up opportunities for me.”
Due to work commitments, Wise and his family were not able to travel to commencement. SNHU staff reached out to his wife, Nicole, and to senior leaders at Booz Allen Hamilton to see if they could bring graduation to Wise instead. Wise was stunned to see his parents, wife and children suddenly appear midday one Monday in May at his workplace with the folks from SNHU, bearing his diploma and SNHU gear for all.
“I know this has been a long road. I know you have achieved excellence in setting goals and being part of something bigger than yourself. I wanted to say congratulations personally,” Soldato told him. As Thomas placed a mortarboard on Wise’s head, Booz Allen Hamilton staff broke into a spontaneous hummed rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
In January 2014, SNHU received an email from U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ed Caricato, from Alexandria, Virginia, asking if university staff planned to travel across the country again that summer as they had the summer before. If so, he wondered how he might nominate his wife, military spouse Courtney Caricato, to have her diploma delivered.
“As the spouse of an active-duty Marine, she has made many sacrifices over the last 17 years,” he wrote. “Specifically, she put her own education on hold as we moved all over the country.”
Caricato said Courtney found SNHU in 2010 and had been a full-time online student since. He spoke to how phenomenal the program had been for her, “offering the challenge one would expect from a quality undergraduate degree program and the flexibility to balance her studies with all the other obligations of a military family.”
Incredibly proud of what his wife had accomplished, he knew how much she looked forward to traveling with her family to New Hampshire for graduation in May. However, due to Caricato’s military commitments, it wouldn’t be possible.
The couple had been planning a special event – a “wet-down” party, a Marine Corps tradition – in celebration of Caricato’s promotion from major to lieutenant colonel, and had set a date in May in Alexandria. While the bus wouldn’t be traveling in 2014, SNHU staff members were able to work stealthily with Caricato to turn his party into a dual celebration, with surprise guests coming to present Courtney with her B.A. in English Language & Literature.
Shortly into the celebration, Caricato addressed their guests, including senior Marine Corps officers, service member friends and family, and invited his wife to join him at the front of the room. Acknowledging his wife’s dislike of having attention called to her, he nevertheless felt her achievements deserved recognition and said that he wasn’t alone in feeling that way. In fact, he had some special guests there to see her. With that, military academic advisor Sandra Warren and Soldato arrived, laden with SNHU balloons, SNHU gear for the Caricatos and their guests and, most importantly, her framed diploma.
Soldato spoke of Courtney’s impressive achievements, noting how difficult it is for a military spouse at times and the dedication she demonstrated to her family and her country, all while earning magna cum laude academic distinction in completion of her degree. Warren was especially appreciative to finally meet Courtney in person and congratulate her on a job well done. Courtney was surprised and excited to have her diploma delivered in such a personal way.
Military veteran Paul Ryll wrote to SNHU President Paul LeBlanc early in 2014, telling him that he planned to travel to New Hampshire for commencement so he could see the university that meant so much to him and meet some of the people who made such a difference in his life. LeBlanc topped that list, and Ryll hoped that the two might connect so Ryll could thank him for his education and resulting opportunities.
Ryll began his college career after high school, but learned his focus wasn’t what it should be. He entered the military, serving eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps – part of that time in Afghanistan – and eventually made his way to SNHU after returning to civilian life.
“They did everything for me with the VA,” he said. “The support shown to military students is the best in the country, in my opinion.”
It was that strong support from SNHU’s military team that motivated him to attend graduation.
Ryll’s success and his enthusiasm for coming to commencement was contagious – 14 members of his family traveled from all over the country to share in his celebration.
“Once he made up his mind that he wanted a college degree, there was no stopping him. I am indeed so very proud of Paul,” said his mother, Melanie Leonard.
Ryll did get to visit LeBlanc one afternoon prior to commencement. Ryll expressed his appreciation to LeBlanc and to the faculty and staff, particularly the military team, who provided such support throughout his time at SNHU, and presented the president with an encased military coin. Ryll’s military advisor, Karl Marston, made a surprise appearance as well.
Marston brought Ryll down to SNHU’s Millyard location to meet others in the military advising team. He also met with former CEO Steve Hodownes and Soldato, who presented Ryll with the first SNHU military coin, used in military circles as a sign of honor and respect.
At SNHU Commencement 2014, Ryll proudly walked across the stage to accept his B.S. in Business Administration diploma from LeBlanc, amid much cheering from his proud family.
When SNHU contacted soon-to-be military graduates in early 2014 to learn who their greatest supporters were, U.S. Air Force veteran and military spouse Andrea Ryan wrote to us about her husband, Dane.
Dane Ryan, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, was deployed overseas. Ryan said she was able to speak with him every day, and he listened to her vent and offered solutions. Her husband wasn’t too worried about things back home, even though Ryan had a lot on her plate.
“She is a strong person. She puts everything she’s got into whatever she’s doing,” he said.
At SNHU, Ryan knew she could rely on her military advisor, Brendan Morrison.
“He was fantastic,” she said. “He was always around if I had any questions to ask of him and got back to me with the answers as soon as he could.”
With Dane deployed and Ryan on her own in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with their young son, it was certain she wouldn’t be able to make it to commencement. Her husband gave SNHU a head's-up that he would be heading home at some point midsummer and would love to help create a surprise diploma delivery celebration for his wife.
When SNHU contacted him, he said, “I was definitely surprised and still am. Nobody has done anything like this for us before.”
As luck would have it, just about the time Ryan was eligible to receive her diploma, her husband was due to head home. While he wasn’t able to divulge exactly when he would be traveling, he did tell us that a welcome home party was in the works on a certain date.
Much to Ryan’s surprise, the party became a dual celebration as their friends rallied around and her husband presented her with her framed B.A. in Sociology diploma.
“It was fantastic having all of my friends there,” she said. “Thank you so much for everything SNHU and Dane worked out to surprise me. That was absolutely wonderful.”
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Tom Williams, a 21-year-old SNHU student, and liver transplant recipient, completed his third consecutive Boston Marathon yesterday, in honor of another patient with liver disease.
SNHU will celebrate its 85th Commencement May 13-14, 2017. More than 16,000 family, friends and community members will join in celebrating more than 4,600 graduates at the SNHU Arena.