Derrick Wharton and Jordan Plumb traveled totally different paths to MTSU’s upcoming spring commencements in May. They were among dozens of student veterans and cadets recognized Wednesday (April 28) at the spring Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony.
Wharton, 53, served in the U.S. Navy and has been in law enforcement 27 years, returning to the classroom to complete his undergraduate degree following his daughter’s high school graduation, fulfilling a promise he made to grandparents who raised him.
Plumb, 22, from La Vergne, Tennessee, will be heading to Korea, embarking on her own military career as a second lieutenant and Quartermaster Corps officer after learning that “a great leader comes from being a good follower” as an ROTC cadet.
Presented by the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, the limited-capacity, livestreamed in-person ceremony was held Wednesday, April 28, at the MT Center inside the Sam H. Ingram Building. To view the livestream, go here.
Participants, who wore masks and social distanced, were presented special red stoles and alumni coins in recognition of their achievement. They are among more than 80 graduating veterans and cadets this spring.
With MTSU’s three days (May 7-9) of commencement ceremonies upcoming, MTSU Provost Mark Byrnes shared how “the Stole Ceremony has become a signature event dedicated to demonstrating our respect for these brave men and women and their selfless service to our great nation.
“… Each time you step foot on this campus, you remind us of what true leadership looks like. Your decision to continue your education reminds us that life has many chapters and that we’re never finished learning.”
Byrnes acknowledged the Veterans Center guidance and direction provided by Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, and Center Director Hilary Miller that “enables us to provide our student-veterans valuable resources for community-building, career advising and peer mentoring.”
The provost recognized “longtime partners who have supported our commitment to invest in our student veterans.”
Huber presided over the ceremony, providing the welcome, a moment of silence, introductions and words of encouragement. “As you prepare to enter this new chapter of your life, we veterans understand that each duty leads to greater levels of responsibility,” he told the graduates.
Huber also presented a special certificate of appreciation to guest speaker Eileen Anka, senior program manager with Nashville, Tennessee-based TOM Launch Execution at Amazon, in recognition of Amazon’s role as title sponsor for the ceremony.
Anka said she was “here to honor and celebrate your achievements at both MTSU and our nation’s armed forces. … There were many barriers to overcome throughout 2020. You persevered through the various challenges, which is something to celebrate.”
Representing The Journey Home Project, the late Charlie Daniels’ nonprofit for veterans, an emotional David Corlew thanked the university for its continued support and partnership and reminded the graduates that “Charlie believed so much in the United States military. … I wish you the very best.”
Wharton’s route to graduation
A New Orleans, Louisiana, native living with his family in Murfreesboro, Wharton and daughter Camry Lacey Wharton have been in college together. She is a sophomore studying exercise science with a minor in dance. He carries a 3.73 GPA in integrated studies with a criminal justice concentration, taking online and in-person classes for 2½ years. He previously earned an associate degree in criminal justice from New Orleans’ Delgado Community College.
The detective has been with the MTSU Police Department for 20 years. He waited more than 30 years to return to college and works “full time at the university while being an MTSU student.” He credits “time management and discipline” for knitting it all together, and the support of his wife, Karen Sharper-Wharton.
“My MTSU experience has been great since returning to school,” said Wharton, who added he plans to remain at MTSU until retirement. “Everyone I have encountered has been very supportive. The Daniels Center has been very encouraging and inspirational, especially as a nontraditional student.”
He adopted this perspective — “you are never too old to learn” — as an older, nontraditional student.
Plumb’s road through ROTC
Plumb will graduate with a 3.0 GPA while majoring in psychology minoring in sociology and military science.
“Being at MTSU has been a learning experience,” she said. “I have learned a lot about myself and pushed myself past barriers I did not know I had. I learned to take education seriously and to appreciate my life in whatever season I am in. Also, I fell in love with being a leader in any capacity.
“Being an ROTC cadet has changed my life. I have accomplished so many things I did not think I could. Whether it is physically or mentally, I know I can achieve anything. I am incredibly grateful to the cadre (military science faculty). They have taught me to be strong, confident and humble.”