It's a safe bet Roxanne Bruhn traveled the farthest to attend Central Michigan University's May 5 commencement.
The retired U.S. Air Force veteran flew more than 4,300 miles from her home on the Hawaiian island of Oahu to receive her master's degree in human resource management with a certificate in leadership. She joined hundreds of CMU graduates with military affiliations.
Some might think traveling that distance to receive a diploma is out of the question. But for Bruhn, it's how she lives life: "You are either all in, or you stay home."
That's particularly true when it comes to her family and the military.
She comes from a family of military veterans, she said. Her grandfather fought in World War I, uncles in World War II, and her father served two tours of duty in special forces in Vietnam.
31-year tour of duty
Bruhn began her 31-year tour of duty in the Hawaii Air National Guard as the first woman aerospace ground equipment specialist, maintaining the equipment aircraft crew chiefs used.
"Mechanics has always interested me," she said. "I didn't see myself as an office type of girl. I always relish the idea of being the first at something, trailblazing. I like to make my own path."
After more than six months of training, she graduated first in her class.
Her accomplishments continued to multiply, reaching what she considers one of her best achievements: being on a team that in two years improved a system used today for the Air National Guard to create military status orders.
Needing a degree
Bruhn realized she needed a degree when she applied for the highest-ranking job an Air Force enlisted person could hold. Despite being told she was the most qualified applicant, she didn't get it because she didn't have a degree.
She didn't go home but went all in.
"I decided that this was never going to happen to me again. Within one year I had four associate degrees, and I was going to work on my bachelor's in public administration, which I got in about 18 months from the University of Hawaii West Oahu in 2014."
A CMU program administrator at Hickam Air Force Base encouraged Bruhn to pursue her master's in human resource management. Now Bruhn is negotiating the starting pay for a position in the Navy and has applied for other military jobs.
Whichever position she gets, she credits support from CMU and her family.
Roxanne Bruhn of Oahu, Hawaii, receives her diploma from President George E. Ross.
"I worked hard for this, and so has my family, so I'm walking," she said before commencement. "I wanted to come to commencement with my husband and my son to be with me and relish the moment. To me it's the symbol of completion. I can end this and start the next chapter."
And when she starts that new chapter, you can bet that she will be "all in."
Military and more
Many on-campus graduating veterans are using their CMU education to enhance their military skills.
Wade Davis, a veteran of 10 years in the Air Force, plans to use his knowledge of the Veterans Administration benefits process to make it easier for other veterans.
He enrolled in CMU's social work program in 2015 with plans to go into private practice working with at-risk youth, but he found a second calling during his field work with Midland's Open Door men's shelter: helping fellow veterans get back on their feet.
Davis was able to help some of the veterans get approved for housing vouchers, medical care and even educational benefits. CMU alum Ryan Griffus, executive director of Isabella County Restoration House, asked him to provide the same service for vets in Mount Pleasant.
"It just feels good to know I've been able to help," Davis said.
Following graduation, Davis will continue to pursue his master's degree. He hopes to put his talent to work helping people in crisis — teens and vets alike.
Serving with music
Mikayla Xi Wang Bertelsen, born in China and raised in Bay City, Michigan, serves in the U.S. Army Reserve as a member of the 338th Army Band.
The music education major came to CMU in 2013 to study percussion with Andrew Spencer, interim associate dean in the School of Music.
Following her acceptance into the military band in October 2015, she's dedicated one weekend a month to her military service. She has performed at Snowfest in Frankenmuth, Michigan, and Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds, as well as at CMU Veterans Day festivities.
Bertelsen is finishing her student teaching at a high school in Jackson, Michigan, and plans to head to a percussion fellowship after commencement and continue to serve in the Army Reserve through October 2021.
Military and medicine
Another CMU military connection is through the College of Medicine. Five students this year attended medical school with the help of the military's Health Professions Scholarship Program, which offers a paid medical education in exchange for service as a commissioned medical department officer in the U.S. Army, Navy or Air Force.
This year's graduating class included five who chose that route.
Laura Virgo, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, said she chose CMU because when she interviewed the staff was very friendly and helpful, and that she wanted to help the new medical program grow.
She opted for the military scholarship program and the Air Force for several reasons: The high cost of medical school, "the opportunity to help those who serve and have served our country," and because her grandfather and her sister served in the Air Force. Her sister also went through an HPSP program.
She will do her residency in psychiatry at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center/Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
John Geselman, of Carson City, Michigan, chose CMU because he liked the faculty and the learning opportunities offered through the Comprehensive Community Clerkship program.
He chose the military scholarship program to save his parents some money. He had tried the Reserve Officers Training Corps and liked that "the military is all about educating, training and improving the lives of others."
He will do his residency in family medicine at Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.
Joshua Forsyth, of Chesaning, Michigan, chose CMU partly for the College of Medicine's focus on medically underserved areas. He also saw it as an opportunity to help build a young program.
Forsyth followed in the footsteps of his father, who chose the Air Force and paid for his own medical school through the HPSP. Joshua also wants to work in family medicine in mid-Michigan.
He will do his residency in family medicine at CMU Medical Education Partners in Saginaw.
The other military CMED graduates are both Army. Ricardo Galindo will do his residency at San Antonio Military Medical Center. Soham Parikh will do his at Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
The CMU advantage
Duane Kleinhardt, director of CMU's Veterans' Resource Center, said 1,757 military-affiliated students were enrolled at CMU in the spring semester: 526 serving members, 408 military veterans and 823 military And at last count, more than 155 admirals and generals have earned their degrees from CMU.
A big reason for those numbers is that military members can take face-to-face classes on any of 20 military locations in the United States. And if they get reassigned to another base, get deployed, or retire, they can complete their education online in many fields of study.
They also can have confidence in the value of their degree. Military Time's 2018 Best for Vets national rankings give CMU high marks for GI Bill gap coverage and staff support.
And CMU makes it affordable by providing tuition rates discounted up to 40 percent for all active duty military, reservists, guard members, their spouses and qualified dependents.