Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Cuyamaca College lauds graduating veterans

Many of the  military veterans who will be graduating from Cuyamaca College on Thursday have faced challenges during their transition from service member to student, but perhaps none as difficult as Ruth Creen-Boulware. 

Ruth Creen-Boulware, center, with
friends Cecilia Endita, left, and
Erica Fletcher
After more than 20 years in the workforce, including a four-year stint in the Navy during the ‘80s, Creen-Boulware returned to college in 2012 at the urging of her husband. He died in a motorcycle crash during her first year of studies, and Creen-Boulware nearly dropped out.

She returned to Cuyamaca College, and will be graduating this week with an associate degree in social work, earning a 3.9 grade-point average. At a ceremony Friday honoring 51 graduating veterans, she was recognized as the veteran graduating with the highest GPA.

“The people here at Cuyamaca are just amazing – this college provides the best help you could possibly want,” she said. Creen-Boulware is heading to San Diego State University in the fall to major in social work and hopes to have a career helping the elderly.

This is the third year that Cuyamaca College has held a recognition ceremony for veterans, part of the college’s outreach efforts. Veterans services counselor Osvaldo Torres said that as more veterans leave the service with the United States’ drawdown in the Middle East, community colleges can anticipate growing numbers of former military personnel enrolling.

Graduating veterans gather at ceremony
At Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges, the number of veterans receiving degrees or certificates has nearly doubled over the past five years, from a little over 100 in 2010-2011 to just under 200 this academic year. Research shows that veteran students at the two East County colleges typically outperform their classmates in succeeding in and completing their coursework.

In addition to certification for education benefits provided through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, both colleges provide counseling and student clubs tailored to veterans. Resource centers are also in place where they have access to peer support, study areas, financial aid resources and referrals to outside agencies. Veterans who have left the service within four years are offered priority registration for the college classes they need.

Vice President for Student Services Scott Thayer honors a vet
Governing Board member Edwin Hiel told the crowd that the district is committed to helping veterans reach their academic goals and events like the recognition ceremony are important to send a message of support.

“Indeed, you are greatly on our radar,” he said. “We recognize the challenges that veterans face and I know that the colleges have a keen interest in making sure that we provide for you the necessary support that you need to be able to celebrate your accomplishments as you are tonight.”

The ceremony’s guest speaker, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Biggers, noted that today’s veterans receive more public support than when he served three tours of duty in the Vietnam War, earning the Silver Star and two Purple Heart medals.

I am happy the public is recognizing the sacrifices you have made from constant deployments,” Biggers said. “You have achieved a milestone in your life that some of us today wish we had.”

Also speaking Friday was Tommy Marquez, veterans caseworker for Congressman Duncan Hunter, who presented each of the graduates congressional commendations. The Cuyamaca College alum also thanked veterans counselor Torres for providing advice that he said was critical to his getting his job with the congressman. Marquez said that as he neared graduation, the counselor urged him to take the few additional classes needed to obtain two degrees and it was that accomplishment that gave him the edge over others chasing the same job.

Closing Friday’s ceremony was Marsha Gable, dean of counseling services, who urged graduates to be bold and willing to take chances in future endeavors.

“You were bold in taking that first step when you enlisted,” she said. “You were bold when you took your first step to go to college. Continue to work hard, to be a great American and a great contributor to our community. Continue to take more risks – there should be nothing you are afraid to do. You bring a degree of leadership, commitment and camaraderie every place you go. So go on and dream big. We have equipped you well for your future. Just trust yourself and keep going.”