Deployment to Diploma: A Commencement Comeback
Almost two decades after missing his high school graduation because of grades that were a fraction of a percent too low, Jorge Omar Hernandez Duran delivered the commencement address at Brandman University’s Northern California commencement ceremony. Held at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, 472 of 1,133 graduates from throughout the north state crossed the stage to receive a diploma. Graduates from eight Northern California campuses of Brandman support students in and around Fairfield, Modesto, Monterey, Roseville, Walnut Creek, Yuba City, Travis Air Force Base and online.
Hernandez earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Science and minored in Organizational Leadership while serving full-time as a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, taking him to 20 temporary duty locations in the past three years. Currently stationed at Travis Air Force Base, Hernandez is the first member of his family to earn a college degree and to plans to pursue an MBA. He was the undergraduate student speaker at commencement and shared these remarks:
Thank you, Chancellor Brahm. It is an honor to be here with you today.
Before I start I would like to acknowledge and show gratitude to our faculty and family members who are here today. The path to success would not have been as smooth without their support. So, let’s give them a round of applause.
I personally would like to thank God. My wife Nichola - not only am I graduating, but today is our 15th anniversary! - my daughters Jocelyn and Lilyanna, my mom and dad, brother and sister as well as friends and military members who are here today and those who are deployed and can’t. It’s been a long road with many challenges and struggles along the way, but I know we are all proud to be here.
Fifteen years ago, I found myself in a very uncomfortable and difficult position. I had to let all my friends and family know that I would not be walking the stage and graduating enterprise high school with the rest of my peers. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I learned a very valuable lesson that left me bitter and unaccomplished. You see it wasn’t that I had not fulfilled the credit requirements to pass, but did not receive a passing grade in one class. I missed it by one-tenth of a percentage point. It was a very difficult pill for me to swallow and I felt I had let my family down.
My parents had sacrificed so much so that I would have a better future here in America. They left their native homeland to create a better future for myself and my siblings. They demanded more from me and I had failed. After several non-fulfilling jobs, I had an urge to find meaning and give back to this country.
I wanted to earn my citizenship, so I joined the military. After 15 years of honorable service in the military and five deployments to numerous locations in the Middle East, I earned my citizenship in 2009.
However, this accomplishment did not fulfill me completely. Even after several years in the military, I felt tarnished by my lack of education and had a fear of returning to school. I was afraid that it was too late for me, and I would not grasp the concepts that were taught in college. I felt that school was just not meant for my family tree.
Luckily for me, with some encouragement from family and not knowing that one day I would be up here speaking to you all, I decided to get over my fear of school and took “Public Speaking” in 2017 for my first course at Brandman University.
I started to do well in college, but it wasn’t until I took an Ethics class with Dr. Leigh Ann Wilson during the spring 2017 term, where I was challenged and learned that there was more than just passing a class. It meant having to learn a subject and apply it to my life. Dr. Wilson would continually provide constructive feedback and demanded the very best. Passing this class was not going to be easy and doing the minimum was no longer an option, I wanted to understand the subject and understand my own ethical beliefs. I soon began to work at being the very best I could be and started to apply ethical values both personally and professionally.
I no longer looked at my life, job and my classes as something I needed to pass or complete. I needed to achieve! Peers soon started to notice a difference in my work ethic and my approach to life and recognition would soon follow. I started to get recognized more frequently and ultimately received the squadrons 2018 Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year award. Attending Brandman University has been one of the best decisions I have made and I can honestly say it has made me better for it.
My ethics class helped me to stand strong in my ethical values. In fact, at one point in my career, I had had a conversation with a border patrol agent who had told me I would be a good agent if I ever decided to join. I had questioned for a while my decision to decline his proposal because it just wasn’t the right professional fit for me.
While I have been told it was un-American of me to have the opinions I do, I respectfully disagree. I believe that everyone values something different, and at times I may not see eye to eye with other individuals, but my code of ethics will remain the same.
If there is something, I have learned these past few years it is that we live in a complex society with various cultures, ethnicities, religions, and lifestyles. So be kind and respectful to one another. I have found that being a good listener, treating people fairly, along with having kindness and compassion can make the world a better place. A quote attributed to Aristotle reads: “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
I ask everyone to challenge themselves and to find what makes them better and what they can do to help others achieve, as my family, mentors, and professors have done for me. Continue to push yourselves, break barriers and overcome walls in front of you and you will succeed.
Lastly, I would like to dedicate this honor, to all the hardworking families that have sacrificed in order to make this place their home. Thank you for working towards a brighter future and for making America great!
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