U.S. Army veteran Kenel Saint Soir’s voyage through life — from growing up in Haiti without running water and electricity to military service and graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a full-time job — “has been a story of resilience, perseverance, determination and, most importantly, the divine power to never give up,” he said.
With an ever-present smile and a man of faith, Saint Soir (pronounced SAIN SWAH) of Franklin, Tennessee, studied land development and residential construction management (3.5 GPA) in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences’School of Concrete and Construction Management between his military career (honorably discharged as staff sergeant) and working as production supervisor at Ryan Homes, building homes for customers.
He navigated MTSU without the G.I. Bill because he had been out of the military for too long. The university’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center “was instrumental in helping me to get vocational rehabilitation to cover my tuition costs and basic housing allowance, so thankful for their support.”
“From the professors, the staff, the students and the Daniels family and veterans center, this has been a remarkable experience for me,” he added. “I learned a lot and grew in many areas of my life. MTSU has greatly exceeded my expectations and I am so grateful for being able to attend and graduate from this great institution.”
Saint Soir and a near-record 60 graduating veterans attended the spring Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony Wednesday, May 3, in the Miller Education Center’s second-floor atrium, with Amazon Military the presenting sponsor.
“It should go without saying that we believe in each of you and are honored you chose to complete your education at Middle Tennessee State University,” President Sidney A. McPhee, the guest speaker, shared in his remarks. “Most importantly, we thank you for your dedication, your selflessness and your commitment to our country. You represent the finest traditions of our university and nation and I want to be the first to congratulate you on your graduation.”
Commencement ceremonies will be held Friday and Saturday, May 5-6, in Murphy Center. More than 100 student veterans are among the 2,650-plus graduates.
McPhee, who provided a history lesson for both the ROTC program and the Daniels Center, said the establishment of the red Stole Ceremony “served a number of purposes,” including “acknowledging your successful completion of your academic degree” and “the formal introduction of each of you to the professional world operating outside our campus. … Representatives from government, business and the professional community join us today, as they welcome you into their ranks.”
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives at MTSU, led the ceremony and introduced McPhee.
Huber said it “was a time of recognizing and appreciating” the MTSU students who served in the various military branches. “Soldiers, these are the heroes. … those around you — family and friends, MTSU’s leadership, people from the community, VA representatives and future employers — are here to support you.”
Late in the spring semester before graduating with his master’s degree in engineering management, Daniel Hannett relocated to Scottsville, Kentucky, for a new job as a design engineer for Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems Inc.
Hannett, 33, a four-year member of the MTSU Experimental Vehicles Program that included being president of three different student groups, earned the Daniels Center Journey Award from The Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project, a longtime partner with the Daniels Center.
“This is huge (for me),” said Hannett, who has overcome obstacles to reach the finish line. “The Journey Award is fitting because I only have a general discharge from the Air Force and did not receive the G.I. Bill or other educational benefits. To be able to graduate with a master’s degree (after earning his bachelor’s in electromechanical engineering) was really difficult.”
Veteran Leadership Award
U.S. Air Force veteran Rongi Langham of Nashville, Tennessee, who double majored in the Aerospace Department’s unmanned aircraft systems operations and Japanese in the College of Liberal Arts, was “kind of in shock” in receiving the Daniels Center Veterans Leadership Award, presented to him by Deb Sells, vice president of Student Affairs and vice provost of Enrollment and Academic Services.
“It’s a symbol of my service to the military and community,” said Langham, 30, an award-winning unmanned aerial vehicle/remotely piloted aircraft sensor operator while serving and currently submitting applications to prospective employers. “It’s a step toward what I hope will be a successful career. I really appreciate MTSU for bestowing this award.”
This award recognizes a graduating student-veteran who has demonstrated superior leadership, academic achievement and selfless service to MTSU and to the community.
“Rongi has been an exceptional student in every way, setting the standard for others through his dedication to his coursework,” said Sells, who added that he served as a UAS flight instructor for one week of the three-week Tennessee Digital Agriculture Camp and will serve two weeks when it’s held again.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)
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