MTSU ‘Salutes’ Graduating Veterans During Stole Ceremony


Shane Smith, who is now in his second career after 24 years in the military, earned his master’s degree from MTSU in professional studies with a concentration in strategic leadership.

Fellow veteran Karlie Franks received her bachelor’s in social work from MTSU on Saturday, Nov. 21, and will embark on her own master’s in social work in an accelerated one-year advanced standing program.

The Shelbyville, Tennessee residents were among 12 MTSU seniors participating in the Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony, held virtually Wednesday, Nov. 18, because of COVID-19 safety protocols. Nearly 75 student veterans graduated in Floyd Stadium on November 21.

“It is a blessing (to graduate),” said Smith, 47, a retired U.S. Army captain and infantry officer who had multiple combat (Iraq) and operational deployments (Macedonia and Kuwait). “I’m feeling the most proud of getting to share this with my family (wife Jamie and, daughter Siena, 14, and son Sterling, 11).”

A former assistant director and employer search agent in the Transition Home Office for the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, with the largest dedicated space for veterans in college in Tennessee, Smith is now a health care recruiter for Ascension Saint Thomas.

Smith attended “one class at a time — a pace I needed to be successful and only missed one semester,” he said. He found working and taking his final class “a significant challenge” because of COVID-19.

He is leading an initiative — PCT (patient care technician) to CPT (certified pharmacy technician) pathway project — where entry-level associates can participate in an internal training program to earn pharmacy technician certification, providing additional career growth opportunities for the associates. If successful, the project could expand to other Ascension ministries, which are located in 22 states.

Franks, 28, said the stole ceremony, where red stoles are presented to the graduating senior veterans, “was really special because nobody else gets to do this.”

“Being honored for our service is really great,” she added. “It’s nice to have a special ceremony for those who have served our country.”

Franks spent a little more than three years in the U.S. Army. She was a specialist with 92 Fox Petroleum Supply for the 603rdAlpha Company at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, then became part of the Warriors Transition Battalion in Hinesville, Georgia, before a work-related broken pelvis forced a medical discharge.

A family advocate since August with South Central Relative Caregiver program, Franks has two children and two step-children. This year, she has had mostly in-person social work classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Journey Home Project $5K check, other highlights

David Corlew with The Journey Home Project spoke at the event and presented a $5,000 check from the organization to assist student veterans and their families struggling during the COVID crisis.

Representing event sponsor Amazon, in a video, P.J. Williamson, a former British naval officer, shared how his company and many others “value our service members and the unique skillsets and perspective that you bring to the civilian workforce.”

“To quote (CEO) Jeff Bezos, Amazon actively seeks leaders who can invent, think big … and deliver results on behalf of our customers,” added Williamson, vice president of the Tennessee Warriors Amazon chapter.

“As men and women who have served in the armed forces, these leadership principles should be very familiar, as they are fundamentally ingrained in each and every one of you,” he said. “In a year that has been unlike any other, you should be immensely proud of your hard work, dedication and achievement. … It’s these qualities that will guide you on your next journey into civilian employment.”

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told the honorees “freedom is not free” and congratulated them for their service and commitment to completing their MTSU degree requirements.

“We are presenting these special stoles because we want to extend a deep true blue gratitude to you and to your families to show our appreciation for not only your hard work and your accomplishment at MTSU, but what you have done for this nation.”

Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives led the ceremony. He is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, serving 38 years. Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller spoke to the group about their soon-to-be new roles as alumni. U.S. Army veteran Ceron Mays sang the national anthem.

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