By

Marshall Terrill

Arizona State University student veterans were able to celebrate their graduation in a special way this year — from the comfort of their cars.

While many other ASU convocation ceremonies this spring were held on Zoom or other streaming platforms, nearly 200 veterans zoomed over to Lot 59 on ASU’s Tempe campus on May 1 for an in-person experience.

“Our student veterans worked hard this last year and overcame a lot of challenges to get to this point. In particular, this spring term of 2021 was a grind,” said Jeff Guimarin, director of ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center. “The team wanted to give them a boost and celebrate as best we could to recognize their accomplishments. Giving them an ability to bring friends and family to a drive-thru recognition and get that military service branch stole is huge. We didn't want to miss that opportunity.”

This year's COVID-19-modified veteran stole ceremony gave graduates the ability to drive up and receive their individual military stole and other goodies while being cheered on by other veterans. Guimarin said the idea was inspired by a military spouse and current ASU student who works on the outreach team managed by the Tillman Center's Michelle Loposky.

“The Pat Tillman Veterans Center and ASU Alumni Association felt an event like a drive-thru was the least we can do to recognize both our students’ military service and their graduation at ASU,” said Loposky, a former U.S. Army combat field medic who was deployed after the Bosnian war in the Stabilization Force humanitarian efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Saturday morning celebration was a feel-good experience for all, some driving hundreds of miles to participate.

Navy veterans Mary Flint and Taylor Harris, two ASU Online students living in the San Diego area, felt the occasion warranted a road trip.

“We drove in from California to get this,” said Flint, a philosophy major who served in the Navy from 2012 to 2020. “It’s graduation, so it’s a big deal.”

Harris, a public policy major in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions who is currently serving in the Navy, said coming to Tempe was a necessity.

“I guess we both just wanted to feel normal,” Harris said. “We felt proud of ourselves and wanted to celebrate that in some type of way.”

For Nicole Randall, the ceremony was a way to connect with her military and immediate family. She and her husband, Christopher, rolled in around 10:30 a.m. with their two children, Brennan, 14, and Kamrin, 13, in the back seat of their large pickup truck.

“I came here today because I wanted to celebrate my personal achievements and hard work as well as wanting to do it with my fellow veterans,” said Randall, a Navy veteran who is graduating with a dual certificate in elementary and special education from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Graduates weren’t the only ones who celebrated. Approximately two dozen volunteers — mostly veterans or veteran affiliates — also joined in the festivities. Some held up pompoms and signs. David Lucier, co-founder of the ASU Veterans Chapter for the Alumni Association, held up a sign that read “Congrats Class of 2021 Sun Devil Vets.”

“I’ve attended every one of these ceremonies for the last five years, and I feel compelled not to break that record,” said Lucier, who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and graduated from ASU in 1974. “We want to congratulate these young student veterans on a job well done because it’s a great milestone. They’ve faced a lot of challenges, overcome a lot of obstacles and I cheer them on.”

Army veteran Brian Meiborg volunteered because it was a way to give back to the ASU and veteran community.

“I was in special operations when I served, and that part of the military doesn’t usually get the time or opportunity to give back because we’d so focused on what we need to do,” said Meiborg, who was in the 75th Ranger Regiment from 2013 to 2018. “When I got out of the service, I was really lost and didn’t know who to reach out to. The Tillman Center really helped me find my footing. They helped me, so I’m now giving back.”

Student veterans came in all ages, disciplines and branches of the military. Some were born in other countries.

Jay Jesus was born in India and served in the Army from 2013 to 2017. He received his undergraduate degree in global logistics from the W. P. Carey School of Business. He said he participated in the event because he is a proud Sun Devil and wanted to be around other veterans.

“I really didn’t get a lot of opportunities to be around other students and didn’t get to do all of the in-person activities because of the pandemic,” said Jesus, who graduated with a 3.8 GPA and is pursuing an MBA in supply chain management. 

On Saturday, Jesus drove up in his 2014 black Honda CRV to collect his military stole and swag bag. His ASU license plate — “042” — holds special meaning for Jesus.

“It’s in memory of Pat Tillman."

Top photo: Navy veteran Mary Flint receives her stole and gifts at the COVID-19-modified veteran stole ceremony drive-thru May 1 at Lot 59 on the Tempe campus. She is receiving her bachelor's in philosophy (morality, politics and law) through ASU Online and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Graduating student veterans were able to sign in and receive their honorary stoles, along with a swag bag, to be recognized for both their military and academic achievements. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News