Vanessa VanCleve took a roundabout way to discover Murfreesboro and graduate soon from Middle Tennessee State University.
After high school, the former Vanessa True from Monroe, Ohio, joined the U.S. Navy. She was a machinist mate on the U.S.S. Wasp multipurpose amphibious assault ship. She eventually fell in love. Smyrna, Tennessee, resident Brandon VanCleve brought her to Middle Tennessee. True found MTSU — “a place where I could see myself” — to take advantage of the G.I. Bill’s educational benefits.
Vanessa VanCleve was among more than 20 seniors who were a part of the first virtual Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony Wednesday, April 29, in a Zoom session broadcast on MTSU’s and the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center Facebook Live platforms and can be viewed at https://youtu.be/IHK9c0TrX7Y.
Normally an on-campus event full of handshakes, hugs and smiles in front of family, friends, faculty and others, the ceremony recognizes the student veterans and ROTC cadets with red stoles to wear at commencement. The May 9 graduation will be a virtual commemoration for more than 2,000 MTSU students, including 102 graduating veterans and cadets.
Because the coronavirus pandemic forced MTSU to cancel all on-campus events and spring semester classes be totally remote learning, President Sidney A. McPhee said “without question, this is unlike any Stole Ceremony we’ve ever held” as state-mandated physical distancing guidelines still prohibit large gatherings.
“Nevertheless, what’s even more remarkable is that we would not allow the coronavirus pandemic to stop us from gathering safely and virtually, to show our tremendous support and admiration to our graduating student veterans,” McPhee added. “It is also remarkable to see family and friends and others in our community gathering on this platform to celebrate the accomplishment of these students.”
McPhee joined retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, in the atrium of the Cope Administration Building to share congratulatory remarks via Zoom while Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller and David Corlew, longtime manager for Charlie Daniels and co-founder with him of The Journey Home Project, addressed graduates virtually from the Daniels Center.
Graduating student veterans able to participate were introduced into the Zoom ceremony by Miller and allowed to share their military experience and earned degree via computer or smartphone. Daniels Center staff also joined the videoconferencing ceremony to show their support.
“Courage is the conquest of fear,” said Huber, who emceed the ceremony. “… Thank you for being leaders of our nation, our communities and our university, and thank you for being willing to give your life for people you didn’t know.”
McPhee said Wednesday’s ceremony “shows how we cannot and will not let this virus deter us from our most important duties.”
Offering congratulations on behalf of the Danielses, Corlew told graduates that “we are here to walk the walk with you as you look forward to entering the workplace and life after serving.”
VanCleve, 25, now a Murfreesboro resident, said receiving a red stole is meaningful.
“I’m so proud to have been in the service even for the short time that I was,” said VanCleve. “But to be given a red veteran stole and show not only the accomplishment of graduating college but serving in the military was a big deal to me.”
VanCleve decided a four-year Navy commitment would be enough. “I grew into a different person and my passions in life changed,” she said. “I knew I wanted to get my degree in something that I loved so that every day I could wake up loving my career.” She enrolled at MTSU in 2017. The couple married a year later.
“It was strange because my newfound passion was in everything about homes — building, design, architecture — and when I pulled up the MTSU website on degree choices, I saw a ‘Calling all Women’ category. It was for the construction program and I knew right then it was exactly where I was supposed to be.”
She will graduate cum laude with a 3.6 GPA, majoring in the School of Concrete and Construction Management’s land development and residential building construction management program. She praised the faculty.
“Having a relationship beyond just being my professors with people like (Jacob) Avila, (Eddie) VanHook and (Heather)Brown has been so beneficial,” VanCleve said. “They not only help students grow in their careers immensely, but care so much about growing us into good, hardworking and smart leaders.”
“I could rave about the Concrete and Construction program for days and the Daniels Center is one of the best resources on campus.”
VanCleve has worked as an intern for a year with BearRidge Homes in the Nolensville and Franklin, Tennessee, area. She will be a project supervisor with NVR/Ryan Homes after graduation.
To learn more about the Daniels Center, call 615-904-8347 or visit https://www.mtsu.edu/military/.
—Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)