Spouses and children of active service members are honored with a cord representing the sacrifices military families make in serving our country.
Graduation from college is a momentous occasion. It is the day when graduates celebrate their accomplishments with family, friends and colleagues. For a specific group of graduates, there will now be extra meaning to this day.
Texas Tech University's Military & Veterans Programs (MVP) recently introduced a new graduation cord for military dependents to wear at their graduation ceremony. The MVP program is part of Texas Tech's Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
“Presenting a graduation cord to military spouses and children is extremely meaningful,” said Gracie Guerra, assistant director of MVP. “This cord shows recognition for dependents' adaptability, strength and perseverance in pursuing a degree despite the many challenges and hardships that come from being a military family member. It is a small token of our appreciation for their service to our nation.”
Not to be confused with the camouflage military stoles that veterans and active service members themselves wear, this new cord can be worn by immediate family members such as spouses and children of service members.
Russell Gallegos, a Texas Tech senior, will wear the new cord on Aug. 7, when he graduates with his bachelor's degree in kinesiology.
“As a military dependent, we're often called military brats,” Gallegos said. “Sometimes people hear that and don't know what it means. It actually stands for born, raised and transferred.”
“Military dependents are truly a unique subculture. We're the 1% of the 1%. We've been raised in a culture that has taught us to be extremely adaptable. This culture also has instilled a drive to keep going; to not quit. This is a drive many of us bring with us as we enter higher education and eventual careers.”
Gallegos was only 3 months old when he attended his father's swearing-in ceremony. The oldest of three children, Gallegos and his siblings have known nothing else.
“There were amazing advantages to growing up the way I did,” Gallegos said. “I've gotten to live in Texas, Florida, Virginia, Germany, Washington, Georgia and Italy. I've met amazing people and experienced culture firsthand.”
The part of being a military dependent that Gallegos treasures most, though, is how tightly knit his family is.
“I remember as a kid, my father leaving for a deployment and telling me I was the man of the house now,” Gallegos said. “I took that very seriously. My father had a job to do, and so did I.”
Children of active service members also have to grow up a little faster.
“I've never pretended that anything I've gone through is similar to what my father faces,” Gallegos clarified. “However, the sacrifice military families make is still that – a sacrifice.”
“There is the service member and their family. They're fighting two different wars. Both sides have to support each other. We need to know our dad is OK; but knowing that we're OK helps him perform well.”
It is this symbiotic relationship that is represented in the new dependent graduation cords. The cord not only represents the sacrifice that dependents make, but it also honors their family as a whole.
“My parents have made me who I am today, and I cannot thank them enough,” Gallegos said. “When I wear this cord at graduation, it's not just for me – it tells the story of what we've experienced as a family.”
Gallegos will be joined on Aug. 7 by his entire family as he walks the stage at the United Supermarkets Arena. He hopes that the commencement ceremony will make his father as proud of him as Gallegos is of his father.
After graduation, Gallegos plans to go on to nursing school to become a neuro intensive care unit nurse.
The introduction of the dependent graduation cord is one of many new ideas Sierra Mello-Miles, director of the MVP program, has helped implement since she began her role.
“U.S. Congressman Stanford D. Bishop Jr. said, ‘The strength of our military is drawn from the resilience of their families.' Military dependents truly are the backbone of our country,” Miles said. “This cord is symbolic that their service and sacrifices are seen and appreciated by Texas Tech.”