Pomp and circumstance took on a whole new meaning at Moltow College this week as the Moore County campus was linked, via Skype, to military bases in Afghanistan for two separate graduation ceremonies. SFC Joshua Paul Moon of Beechgrove and SFC Tracy Allan Banta of Smyrna completed the requirements to earn an associate of science degree and with the modern technology of Skype, Dr. MaryLou Apple, president of Motlow College, conferred their degrees.
The soldiers do not know each other, yet they have so much in common. Besides earning the same degree from Motlow and being currently deployed in Afghanistan, both of their wives are or have been Motlow students and they each have three children.
With family, friends and Motlow supporters gathered on the Moore County campus, SFC Moon was called at 9 a.m. Lynchburg time, 6:30 p.m. in Afghanistan. When the connection was made, he appeared on an overhead monitor in his graduation cap and fatigues.
Dr. Apple set a tone of celebration of his accomplishments as a student and gratitude for his service to America. When instructed, Lt. Colonel Luke Peterson presented Moon’s diploma in Kandahar while members of the base cheered him on.
Witnessing the ceremony at Motlow were his children, Cody, Madison, and Claudia; mother and stepfather, Jack and Ginger Clements of Manchester; father Billy Moon of Unionville; brother Toby Moon of Winchester; and paternal grandfather, Paul A. Williams of Lascassas who is a surviving WWII veteran. Moon’s wife Christy was unable to attend as she was beginning a new job.
When the first graduation was complete, a second call was made at 9:30 a.m. to SFC Tracy Allan Banta of Smyrna, stationed at Camp Dwyer in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The Internet connection was not as constant; occasionally video or audio was interrupted. Major Ryan James Grippen of Medical Service Corps presented Banta’s diploma for Motlow College while Dr. Apple conferred his graduation.
Members of Banta’s aviation regiment (air ambulance soldiers) witnessed the graduation in Afghanistan while wife, Melissa and sons Cody and Austin joined the audience in Lynchburg. Son Stephen, who is also a Motlow student, was not present.
Both soldiers expressed their gratitude for all of the efforts made for them to formally be able to complete their graduation. They are both experiencing a world where every second counts and they truly don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Dr. Apple concluded her communication with each soldier saying, “On behalf of the college and on a personal note, we thank you for your service to our country.” She referenced the fact that her son had also been deployed to Afghanistan and her husband had served for 31 years. Dr. Apple served as a chief nurse and flight nurse in the Air National Guard, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Additional information about the Skype graduations can be seen on News Channel 5’s website (www.newschannel5).