Red, white and blue balloons along with flags representing the military branches provided a patriotic backdrop for 39 graduating Cal Poly Pomona student veterans who received emblazoned sashes and certificates at a special ceremony.
The May 28 event honored student veterans for their service to the country and celebrated their academic success at the university.
Rep. Norma Torres, whose 35th Congressional District includes Pomona, and a field representative of state Sen. Connie Leyva of the 20th District attended the event. In a fitting gesture, retired Marine Lt. Col. Ron Coley, the husband of university President Soraya M. Coley, gave the keynote address. Coley, who serves as the vice chancellor for business and administrative services at UC Riverside, is a 20-year military veteran.
One of Torres’ sons, Christopher, served in the U.S. Air Force from 2009-13 while her eldest son, Robert, graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, giving the legislator a personal connection to the graduating class and the university.
“This is quite a milestone for every single one of you,” Torres told the graduates-to-be. “You have my personal admiration for the hard work, not only for the work you’ve done here as a student but also your service to our great nation. We owe you a great deal for that.”
A photo slide show of veterans during their tours of duty played continuously during the ceremony. Several of the photos were taken in combat zones with soldiers gripping carbines and machine guns, while other pictures were taken aboard ship or away from the front lines.
“The world is your oyster. You have untold options. You have no limitations,” Coley told members of the Class of 2015. “You have the opportunity, you have the option to do anything that you want to do.”
Torres also presented certificates of recognition to Coley and to Cal Poly Pomona’s Veterans Services Initiative. Coley, Torres and Rebecca Gutierrez Keeton, the acting vice president of Student Affairs, presented the sashes and graduation certificates as the veterans walked across the stage in the Ursa Major suite.
In addition to recognizing the student veterans, other honors were announced. Gloria Concha, a counselor in the Office of Financial & Scholarships, received the outstanding staff member award for helping students maneuver through the maze of financial aid paperwork. Professor Jonathan Nourse, chair of the geological sciences department, was awarded the faculty prize. Michael Bailey, a political science major, was voted as outstanding student veteran.
Student veterans who attended the ceremony represented the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Their majors ranged from geography to accounting to urban and regional planning to plant science.
Ling Jeng was born in Taiwan and grew up in Los Angeles. She is a member of the Army Reserve who is graduating with a degree in civil engineering.
“The Veterans Resource Center supported me a lot,” Jeng said. “The faculty members also helped me get my educational assistance, and that saved me a lot of money in tuition.”
Christopher Stannard served two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. He is graduating with a degree in geography with an emphasis in geographic information systems. With the help of professors, Stannard secured a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He sees a role in the CIA or another intelligence agency on his career path.
“The professors are always there when you need them and help you along the way,” Stannard said. “They’re very knowledgeable in the fields that you want to go in. They’re instrumental in any type of success students have here.”
Cal Poly Pomona is a military-friendly campus with a Veterans Resource Center that aims to offer a dynamic and supportive campus community and hands-on opportunities for leadership, academic and personal growth.
Recognizing that student veterans have different needs and issues, the university established the Veterans Services Initiative. This directive’s aim was to integrate and coordinate the university’s efforts in providing support services for student veterans. More important, it recognizes Cal Poly Pomona’s commitment to supporting the academic and personal success of student veterans.
In 2009, students who self-identified as veterans or service members totaled 183. Six years later, that number has more man doubled to 377.