Josh Rhinehart picked up his military honor cords Friday afternoon and said that such a simple gesture added more meaning to graduation.
The 38-year-old U.S. Army veteran graduated Saturday from Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
And he walked across the stage at the Bryce Jordan Center with red, white and blue cords around his neck.
For the first time, Penn State honored its military grads with the cords.
“It does mean so much,” Rhinehart said. “It’s not just having recognition, but a way for me to represent Penn State and the alumni association in a different way than some.”
He was an active-duty member of the Army from 2000 to 2006, and has been in the reserves since 2006.
This year, he was one of 107 others who were eligible at the University Park campus to wear the military honor cords.
Among Penn State’s other commonwealth campuses, there were about 415 graduates also eligible to wear the cords, Coordinator of Veteran Outreach Mary Fisk said.
She said the idea was sparked last year from inspiration from other schools, like Florida State, that recognize military graduates with the cords.
Organized by a committee headed by Penn State’s Vice President for Outreach Craig Weidemann, the idea was rolled out in September.
It was then signed off by university President Eric Barron, and approved by the President’s Council in March.
The cords, Fisk added, were funded by the Penn State Alumni Association.
“It was a way to recognize our veterans at graduation publicly and show appreciation,” Fisk said. “The fact that it got the OK so quickly is an indication of how important Penn State thinks this is. There was just so much support around it.”
And she added that it will be a tradition for military graduates at every graduation staring with Saturday’s spring 2016 commencements.
“It’s a very simple thing, but it was missing in the past — not intentionally, but it was something that was needed,” Fisk said.
About 13,604 diplomas were awarded to students at Penn State across all commonwealth campuses this spring. At University Park, two students were expected to receive associate degrees, while 8,954 were awarded baccalaureate degrees. Approximately 1,033 master’s degree students were expected to graduate, and 244 doctoral degree candidates, a report from the university said.
Associate degrees: 429
Bachelor’s degrees: 11,064
Master’s degrees: 1,534
Law degrees: 159
Doctoral degrees: 244
Medical degrees: 174
Source: Penn State