Bellarmine’s focus on veterans sees 21 vets earn degrees

Bellarmine University undergraduate students, from left, Ben Porter, Asia Porter and Meeka McWilliams, chatted before lining up. Ben Porter and McWilliams are military veterans, two of the 21 who received degrees May 13. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

More than 40 students affiliated with the United States military, including 21 veterans, received degrees at Bellarmine University’s commencement exercises May 13. The class of 2023 had the largest group of military-affiliated graduates in school history.

Bellarmine conferred 915 degrees — 632 undergraduate and 283 graduate or doctoral — during morning and afternoon ceremonies at Freedom Hall. 

Among the 21 veteran graduates was Meeka McWilliams, a U.S. Army veteran. She called herself an “old learner,” saying she attended college out of high school in 2000 before joining the Army. 

Undergraduate members of Bellarmine University’s class of 2023 prepared to process into Freedom Hall during commencement exercises May 13. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Now a combat veteran who was medically discharged from service, McWilliams decided to return to school and give Bellarmine a try.

“Going to Bellarmine made it a lot better because they have a military-friendly campus and make it easier to come back to the civilian world,” she said. “This was the best environment for me to do that in.” 

McWilliams said she has had personal conversations with Bellarmine President Susan Donovan and the dean of her college. “Knowing they care about me and my success made it worth it.”

Members of Bellarmine University’s undergraduate class of 2023 waited in a hallway at Freedom Hall before the commencement ceremony began. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Bellarmine established its Office of Military and Veteran Services in 2017 and expanded the program in 2021.

In announcing the 2021 expansion, the office’s director, Lindsay Gargotto, said, “Veterans often have specific needs, whether it’s navigating a complex array of federal assistance or adapting to life with disabilities incurred in combat.”

“Our goal is to create a veteran-ready campus culture, where those needs are met and veterans can thrive and work progressively to graduation and their career goals,” said Gargotto, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Bellarmine University undergraduate students processed into Freedom Hall for the commencement ceremony May 13. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)
Kayla Bennett
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