UMUC Veterans Day celebration recognizes outstanding student and the veteran legacy

Elizabeth Howe
November 12, 2018 - 5:34 pm

Photo courtesy of Robert Ludwig, UMUC

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At Universty of Maryland University College's Veterans Day Ceremony today, UMUC honored all veterans — but especially recognized a retired four-star general and an active duty Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. 

"It was a great honor, and it was most unexpected," said retired General Carter Ham, recipient of the UMUC President's Medal. 

Ham, now working as the president and chief executive officer of the Association of the United States Army, served on active duty for 38 years. He rose through the ranks all the way from private to a four-star general over the course of his service in Italy, Germany, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Macedonia, Qatar, Iraq, and more than 40 African countries. At today's Veterans Day ceremony, Ham was awarded the UMUC President's Medal by current UMUC president, Javier Miyares.

"I knew a little bit about UMUC but didn't really fully understand the breadth and the scope and the reach," said Ham. "So to be invited to speak here and receive this award from President Miyares —frankly, I look at this as not for me but for all the veterans that UMUC serves. It's really humbling. And it's a great testament to the great work UMUC does to advance education for veterans."

One such veteran working with UMUC to further his education is Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Kenny Saavedra. Saavedra received the General John W. Vessey Jr. Student of the Year Award, named for UMUC's most distinguished alumnus. 

Saavedra is an active duty gunnery sergeant currently stationed at Okinawa. He's also working towards his Bachelor's degree in criminal justice. 

"The most challenging part of it is definitely juggling family, deployments, regular work, military work, and then school," said Saavedra. "But it all works together. My wife is so supportive and my son is as well."

Saavedra's military experience also helps him to handle it all. 

"It's all about dedication, how you focus and having a goal — and the military helped a lot with that," Saavedra said.

University of Maryland University College

What Saavedra doesn't mention is everything he juggles beyond his education, his family, and his military career.

We read the nomination application and we were blown away by how much of his personal time he gives to things beyond the military and beyond his education," said retired Army Colonel Keith Hauk, associate vice president of veterans initiatives at UMUC. "Kenny volunteers with Special Olympics, he volunteers to feed the homeless on Okinawa, he volunteers in the local elementary school. Beyond being a Marine, a student, a husband, a father, he does those kinds of things. That is really what we're looking for."

While the ceremony recognized these two veterans for their service both in and beyond the military, it also recognized the 50,000 veterans, active duty service members, and spouses currently enrolled in classes at UMUC — as well as the countless who came before them in UMUC's military heritage.

"To anybody who served, Veterans Day is very important, and I think it's important for us as a nation that we take a day to recognize and thank veterans for their service," said Hauk. "But I think it's especially important here because UMUC was founded shortly after the second World War specifically to serve the educational needs of soldiers returning home."

UMUC started with military members in mind, and — 70 years later — that is still the university's driving goal. 

"We were founded in 1947, so we've been around for over 70 years," said Hauk. "And our focus from our inception has been serving military and veteran students and their families."

Watch the ceremony on UMUC's Facebook page.