May 18, 2009
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Graduate receives much more than diploma
Army Spec. Jeremy Albert flew in from Hawaii to surprise his mother Joyce Brand at commencement.
Of the 1,400 members of the Metro State graduating class who received their degrees on Sunday, one saw more than just her educational dreams come true.
When Joyce Brand crossed the stage of the Colorado Convention Center to receive her diploma, she found, to her surprise, her son, Army Spec. Jeremy Albert, at the podium, her degree in his hand.
Albert, who is recovering from a back injury sustained in Iraq when his convoy was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), flew in on Saturday, unknown to his mother, on a 13-day leave from his duty station.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Brand said. “I was completely dumbfounded. For a minute, I didn’t even think it was him.” Albert, 22, had told Brand earlier that he would not be able to attend commencement.
After handing his tearful mom her diploma, Albert presented her with a coin and certificate of achievement from his battalion, which read, in part:
“Earning your bachelor of science degree in accounting is a great accomplishment and sets an example for your family, friends and others who might not think it possible to reach their goals. You are among the elite group of people who show the outstanding dedication, perseverance and inspiration throughout your life and a role model for all to follow.”
Brand, 45, dropped out of high school in ninth grade and raised three children as a single mother. After working for 15 years at a circuit-board manufacturing shop "pushing a button for eight hours a day," she decided to go back to school. “I saw these people I worked with (who had) degrees, and said I just want to do that. I think I can do it.” Brand enrolled at Front Range Community College, where she earned her associate’s degree in 2002, before coming to Metro State.
The first person in her family to complete college, Brand said it wasn’t easy, juggling the raising of her children and struggling with coursework. “But my kids were always very encouraging,” she said.
Albert, too, dropped out of high school, got his GED and joined the army three years ago, at 19. About his own education, he said, "I didn't think that I was going to be able to go to college. But seeing my mom graduate makes me believe that I can do it. "
A host of family members, including Albert’s twin sister and their younger sister, were in attendance at graduation. None were aware that Albert would be there.
After being covered by local media, the emotional surprise drew national attention, appearing on Monday morning’s Today show.
The College has received a note from Brand, who shared her appreciation: “…My family will never forget this. It is especially wonderful because my father has tried to help me with Jeremy and be a father figure to him since he was little. I know he was very proud to see both his daughter and his grandson up there. My father is on oxygen and does not get around very well. He almost decided not to go, but changed his mind at the last second. This was so special for him, as well as me. So thank you once again, I will always remember my graduation as one of the happiest days of my life.”
Former Rocky business editor advises students to prepare for the new economy
Delivering Sunday's commencement address was Rob Reuteman, business editor of the Rocky Mountain News until the newspaper’s closure in February. Reuteman told Metro State’s largest graduating class ever that although “there is no way to sugarcoat the fact that you are entering the toughest labor market in 25 years,” holding a college degree affords more opportunity. Reuteman also reminded graduates that the economic situation is temporary, with the U.S. experiencing an economic recession on average every eight years. “(M)ost of you will experience four or five more of these downturns during your working lives.” Citing himself as an example of a new job market in which people are far less likely to work, as Reuteman did, for one company for 26 years, he said, “We have entered an era in which employers no longer watch over and take care of their employees the way they once did. Simply put, they can no longer afford it... To a much greater extent, you will be your own boss during your working lives, and the brand you must promote above all others is you, yourself.” Reuteman quoted President Barack Obama’s recent commencement address at Arizona State University: "Old ideas and institutions have crumbled and a new generation is being called upon to remake the world… (Y)ou'll need to have more than one job or career over the course of your life, you'll need to keep gaining new skills, possibly even new degrees, or to keep taking risks as new opportunities arise."
Reuteman closed with a quote from a former Rocky colleague: “…the most important thing you ought to know is no job, no salary, no 401(K) is more important than being honest and ethical in how you live and work. No stock option or expense account is more valuable than your health. And as many of us now out of a job have learned, the most important investment anyone can make is in their friends and family. That's a growth stock that never loses value and can always be cashed in when needed."