Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.
When graduating student and U.S. Air Force veteran Barbara Blanchard attended the Arizona State University Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony on Saturday, she was accompanied by another graduating student veteran she knows well: her son, Marine Corps veteran Rodney Buller.
In late 2016, Blanchard knew she was getting close to completing her bachelor of applied sciences in operations management degree. So she checked her academic records to see how many credits she still needed, and that’s when she realized her requirements would be met the following spring.
“I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m slated to graduate in spring of 2017,’ and then he said something like ‘Well, that’s when I’m graduating,” recalled Blanchard. “That’s so awesome ... we get to walk together.”
Blanchard, who joined the Air Force in 1981 and served for nine years, started her educational journey at a local community college after being laid off from Intel in 2009 when her job and thousands of others were shipped overseas to Ireland. She then went on to earn a paralegal studies associate degree before finding out that she qualified for a federal program that provides education funds for those whose jobs have gone overseas.
With funding available, the former Air Force administrative specialist turned to ASU in 2015 to begin her next academic journey. First she considered the W. P. Carey School of Business, but the course load did not fit with her full-time federal job. So she looked into ASU Online, and that’s where she found the right fit to balance work and school.
“I got my Phoenix College degree, and that transferred immediately [to ASU],” Blanchard said. “When I applied [to ASU], I got a call within one hour: ‘Yeah, we’ll take you.’”
Buller’s educational journey started in the fall of 2013 shortly after leaving the Marines, where he served for 11 years as a helicopter crew chief. He grew up in a military family moving around the country, but eventually family ties brought him to Arizona and ASU appealed to him.
“I looked at the fact that it was a veteran-friendly campus,” said Buller, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering systems. “Everybody’s out here supporting their veterans. I’ve never seen anything negative on the veterans. It’s always support, and there’s really a huge veteran population out here, too.”
Graduating with his mother was definitely unplanned, Buller said. He knew she was attending school at ASU but had no idea as to when she would graduate.
“I honestly, deep down think I kind of motivated her to push it a little bit further,” he said. “I think she really hunkered down and started studying more when she saw that she was within the same time window of graduating.”
Buller is grateful but still seems surprised about the whole thing and hasn’t had much time to take it all in as he juggles finals and job interviews.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Buller said. “Walking down the same aisle for the stole ceremony, and then potentially walking down our commencement. Yeah, that’s my mom.”
As Buller’s mom completes her current academic journey, she has some words of wisdom for others considering higher education.
“It’s never too late,” said Blanchard. “Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Marine Corps Sgt. Rodney Buller gets a hug from Joanna Sweatt after she gave him his stole at the Spring 2017 Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony at ASU Gammage on Saturday in Tempe. Buller is getting his degree in mechanical engineering systems, and Sweatt, also a Marine Corps vet, works with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
Air Force Sgt. Barbara Blanchard offers her thanks as she receives her stole during the Spring 2017 Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony on Saturday. She's receiving her degree in operations management.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
Mother-and-son veterans Barbara Blanchard and Rodney Buller are shown in their military uniforms.Photo courtesy of Barbara Blanchard