H.R. McMaster honors graduating veterans during 10th anniversary ceremony

Former White House national security adviser tells veterans to build their community, educate public

ASU student veterans seated in an auditoriuam at a graduation ceremony.

A former three-star general who served as the 26th assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs congratulated and gave advice to graduating veterans Saturday inside Tempe’s Desert Financial Arena.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster provided keynote remarks during the Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony organized by Arizona State University’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center.

“It is an honor to be with those who have served our nation, and then gone on to study here at ASU,” McMaster said. “To develop further the knowledge, the skills, the abilities that will permit you to go on and make even greater contributions to our nation and all of humanity.”

A published author, McMaster graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds a PhD in American history. During his 34 years in the Army, he served in various leadership roles. He was director of Army Capabilities Integration Center and deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command within the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command before the president selected him to serve as national security adviser in 2017.

McMaster asked graduating veterans to do two things: strengthen the nation and build a better future for generations to come.

“First, continue to support one another,” McMaster said. “Now it’s up to you to stay connected with each other, reach out to other veterans and continue to build that community.

“Second, as graduates of this great university, you have an opportunity to strengthen connections between your fellow veterans and the citizens in whose name you have fought and served.”

Veterans can continue serving by helping citizens understand the importance of service, the demands and the rewards, McMaster said.

“As veteran graduates, you are ideally positioned to help fellow Americans understand our ethos, our warrior ethos that all of us share,” he said. “And to explain to fellow Americans the importance of that ethos in protecting our nation and our way of life.”

Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of ASU’s special recognition for graduating veterans. During the first celebration in the spring of 2011, just a “handful of veterans” gathered to mark their achievement, said Jeff Guimarin, Pat Tillman Veterans Center director. This semester, over 820 veterans will receive degrees, including four PhDs.

“It is fitting that as we mark the 10th anniversary of ASU’s veteran’s graduation ceremony, we are welcoming our largest spring graduating class to date,” Guimarin told ceremony attendees. “It is an honor to be here in person to celebrate the culmination of your hard work.”

The first ceremony involved about a dozen people in a room a quarter of the size of the stage used during Saturday’s event, said ASU Senior Vice President and Secretary Christine Wilkinson during the event. As the years went by, the venues grew to keep up with the size of the graduating class of veterans.

“The growth, the success, the retention and graduation of veterans has grown tremendously,” Wilkinson said. “I congratulate each and everyone of you on this wonderful lifetime goal.”

Some veterans who graduated in the spring and fall 2020 semesters, and spring 2021, when in-person ceremonies were cancelled due to the pandemic, took part in this week’s event.

“We celebrate all of you today,” Guimarin said.  

Graduate student Maria Adney was the student keynote speaker. Adney enlisted in the Air Force soon after high school, and went on to serve as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard.

Adney, who earned a master’s degree in communication disorders, thanked the families, friends and the ASU community for supporting all the graduates.

“I’m sure I can speak on behalf of the class in saying that our families and our friends kept us focused and grounded during our schooling at ASU,” Adney said.

Finding a new civilian “pack” for support is important after leaving the military, Adney attests from personal experience. But those who have served in the military, who represent only “0.7%" of the population, will always have a bond with each other formed through “blood, sweat and tears.”

“We served in different branches, served different missions on different continents, but we all put on that uniform,” Adney said. “We all know what it means to give it our all, and in that way, we are all bonded beyond just being ASU alumni.

“We are always here for reach other, we always have each other’s backs. So, let’s put on our civilian uniform, and again be something larger than ourselves. We can make a difference. We have shown we can, and today we are celebrating our great accomplishments.”

Graduates included married veterans Brittanie and Robert Slown. Brittanie served in the Army Reserves working in civil affairs and human resources. Robert was a Marine Corps infantry assaultman.

“We always felt supported as we navigated through transferring our credits with ease, using our veteran benefits, and finding a way to balance school, raising two young kids, work and a pandemic,” said Brittanie, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice.

Brittanie comes from a long line of alumni that dates back to the 1930s, when her great grandparents were ASU’s homecoming king and queen, she said. Her mother and other relatives are also alums.

“It was also cool that we both ended up here,” Brittanie said. “We hope to pass the ‘Sun Devil torch’ down to our children as they grow up.”

ASU serves over 10,500 military-affiliated students, including veterans, active duty, Guard and Reserves, and military families using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

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