“I just want to thank Ms. Diane for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” said disabled veteran Michael Doe, when he took the stage at the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterans Upward Bound (Penn VUB) graduation on August 28th. “Your program gave me the tools I need to succeed.” The moving ceremony honored the accomplishments of the Class of 2018, twenty-four recent graduates of the rigorous academic program which prepares veterans for the challenges of postsecondary education.
Program Director Diane Sandefur, or Ms. Diane as she’s called by students, read personal profiles of each graduate as they received the certificates, including details about their military service. Pennsylvania Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-02) gave the keynote speech, telling the Class of 2018 that they do more for him than he could ever do for them. “What all of you provide to those of us who did not serve is freedom. Sometimes I think that gets lost in this day and age,” he said. Evans stayed for the entire ceremony, shaking each veteran’s hand, giving words of encouragement and posing for photos.
Many Penn VUB participants are first-generation college students, and most have faced economic hardship since returning to civilian life. Though the program is challenging, the veterans report a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose as they help each other to succeed.
Humanities experiences that reinforce classroom studies play a large role in Penn VUB’s curriculum, and during the ceremony many students described those experiences as highlights of the program. With the support of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the veterans have been able to take trips to theaters, museums and historical sites that relate thematically to their coursework. For example, this summer students read The Day the World Came to Town, focusing on the stories of the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who opened their doors to stranded airline passengers after the tragic events of 9/11. In August students traveled together to New York City to visit One World Observatory, tour the United Nations and attend a performance of Come From Away, a play based on the book.
This fall the graduates are heading off to regional colleges, including Chestnut Hill College, Stockton College, LaSalle University and the Community College of Philadelphia. Penn VUB reports that the success rate for its graduates is high — most go on to enroll in postsecondary courses. The program teaches important academic skills that help make this possible but, perhaps more importantly, it builds confidence in their own abilities. “I gave an honest effort and learned that yes, I can still do this education thing,” graduate Amie Royer told the crowd.