Graduates throw their caps in the air in celebration for achieving their education goals during a post-wide graduation ceremony in Howze Auditorium at Fort Hood, Texas, April 26. In all, 32 graduates from 13 colleges were honored in three ceremonies April 25-26. (Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs)

FORT HOOD, Texas – Thirty-two graduates from 13 colleges were honored across three post-wide graduation ceremonies at Howze Auditorium here, April 25-26.

“The graduates here today set a goal and took a first step, then another, and another, until they reached their goal to complete their academic program for which we are celebrating today,” said Sheri’ Buono, education services officer at the Fort Hood Soldier Development Center. “Many have already graduated and received their diplomas from their institution, while others are just a few courses shy of completion for that final paper, that final grade, that final sigh of relief.”

Col. Chad R. Foster, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, applauded the graduates for the countless, weeks, months and even years it took to complete this process, despite the long hours and sleepless nights. He said they are a positive example for others to emulate as they wonder if they have what it takes to complete their degree.

The colonel told the graduates that they now have the obligation to go out and use their new knowledge, gained through their degrees, to better their families, their organizations and themselves.

Sharing a quote from German philosopher Immanuel Kant, Foster said, “‘Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.’ What Kant was describing was the necessary balance that must exist between what you learn from books and what you learn from life.”

A graduate from each of the three graduations was selected to be the student-speaker for their class. All three student-speakers shared their personal journey into higher education.

Staff Sgt. Hanna Weilbacher, who received a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice, thanked her family and friends, especially her mother, for supporting and encouraging her, and never doubting in her abilities.

She challenged the graduates awardees to think of other goals they want to achieve.

“If this is the end of your education, find a new challenge and continue to fight for your goals,” she said.

Tanya Balderrama shared her story going through high school with perfect grades and having no idea what she wanted to do when she “grew up.” So she decided to enlist in the Army.

Today, she’s lists a host of degrees, including an associates in medical assisting, a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in counseling, and an executive certificate in higher education administration, leading up to her pursuit of a doctorate’s degree in higher education and administration.

“It is possible to achieve your goals on the Army’s dime, as I am a living testimony,” she said.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Joel Carter shared his journey as an immigrant from Liberia, West Africa, who joined the Army at the age of 34. He has since obtained a bachelor’s and master’s in theology, a bachelor’s in emergency management and disaster operations and now a master of arts in emergency and disaster management.

“I only volunteered to share my story for the sheer purpose of inspiration and proof that hard work and determination will pay off,” Carter said. “The journey was difficult, that’s why only you can tell the journey or story.”

Of the 32 graduates, one individual received an executive certificate, two received associate degrees, 12 received their bachelor’s and 17 received their master’s. After crossing the stage and receiving a certificate on behalf of the Fort Hood Soldier Development Center, the graduates were asked to stand and face the audience.

Thunderous applause sounded as the graduates moved their tassels from the right to the left side of their caps, signaling the end of the graduation ceremony and the beginning of their next journey.

“Don’t ever doubt in yourself for what you have accomplished,” Foster said, “and most importantly, don’t ever doubt yourself for what you’re going to accomplish.”