Parents wear cap and gown at Phoenix graduation
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - At a typical graduation ceremony, parents cheer for their children. For many of the 194 local University of Phoenix students graduating today, it's their children who will be cheering them on. "When they get to walk acro...
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - At a typical graduation ceremony, parents cheer for their children.
For many of the 194 local University of Phoenix students graduating today, it's their children who will be cheering them on.
"When they get to walk across the stage, it's a very big day for all of us at University of Phoenix," said Brittany Nielson, director of the Colorado Springs campus. "We get calls all the time (from students) - 'My kids need help, I'm busy at work' - and we try to walk them through it."
The graduates studied at one of the university's two local campuses, or through its online programs. This year's class includes 23 associate, 104 bachelor and 67 master graduates. The university's online and evening classes are popular with mid-career students, most in their 30s or 40s.
Graduate Ken Van Holbeck, formerly of Superior, overcame challenges on his path to a college education and was among the speakers at the ceremony last Saturday.
Van Holbeck will never forget Sept. 13, 2001.
As a top Air Force commander, Van Holbeck was one of few allowed to fly two days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His destination was Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of victims from the Pentagon were being flown by helicopter.
Van Holbeck and his crew marched to the helicopters and carried out the body bags. Next came the boxes with body parts. Inside a building the size of a small factory, he watched as medical technicians and dental specialists, some only 18, identified the bodies and conducted autopsies. The stench was horrific.
"If there was ever a time to be there, to support the men and women, it was that day," said Van Holbeck, 56, his usually friendly face clouding over. "It's just a god-awful place to see."
"That was one of those days that you couldn't do enough to help people."
When Van Holbeck walks across the stage at today's graduation ceremony, he'll be a step closer to helping people such as those poised young men and women at Dover. With a master's degree in counseling, he hopes to serve veterans who are struggling like he once did.
"For me to keep doing good things for people required me to go back to school," he said.
During his 30-year career, Van Holbeck loved advising and counseling his troops. He rose to the rank of chief master sergeant, one of the top enlisted positions, and oversaw 145,000 men and women.
In 2002, he retired, moved to Colorado Springs and found work as a military contractor. It was unfulfilling work, he said, but it wasn't until the death of his brother a few years later that he decided to alter his path.
On Jan. 30, 2006, his birthday, he quit his job and enrolled at the University of Phoenix. Apprehensive of going back to school, he knew he was in the right place after his first class.
Van Holbeck is especially concerned about the growing number of troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he was diagnosed with himself a month after retiring. After a year of therapy and medication, the nightmares and thrashing in bed finally subsided. He knows he is one of the lucky ones.
"There are a lot of people, probably like me, that don't even know about it, running around with PTSD," he said. "It'll come crashing down on them someday, and we need to help these people."
- Copyright (c) 2009, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.