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Servicemen surprise wife, mother at ASUMH graduation

Written by Billy Jean Louis | Photo by Josh Dooley | Baxter Bulletin | May 15, 2017 |

Both Arin Vickers, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and her fiancé, Patrick Blonshine, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, surprised Burns. Vickers is Burns’ daughter. It was Burns’ first time meeting Blonshine.

It’s been a year since Vickers and Burns had seen each other. Vickers told The Bulletin her mom has been proud of her. She wanted to show her mom the same support.

“I wanted to give back to her,” Vickers said.

Burns, who graduated Magna Cum Laude with an associate of science in criminal justice, told The Bulletin she’s going to give her cord to Vickers because she wants her daughter to have something she’s proud of. Burns joked she’s keeping her degree.

“I didn’t see this coming when I saw her on stage,” Burns said.

Before Kelley and Burns got their surprise, school officials called several graduates to get their diploma. As the sun gleamed on the college’s lawn mid-morning Monday, maintenance workers lined up folding chairs in front of Roller Hall. ASUMH issued 291 associate degrees and 185 technical certificates this year — 160 students opted for the graduation ceremony.

Students bowed their head to join Jacob Kincaid in a prayer. Gabriel Apple, who’s been accepted into the University of Arkansas with plans to study biology, was chosen by the graduating students to deliver the student address. He was also chosen by faculty as the overall academic achiever. Apple, 26, was awarded an Academic All-Star Scholarship from Arkansas.

Apple used a quote from his grandfather to craft his speech. He told his grandfather that he was scared to go away for school. Apple’s grandfather answered, “You have to find yourself, and if you don’t like what you’ve found, you change. What’s worst is when you find yourself and realize there’s nothing there.”
He told The Bulletin he based his speech on the quote because all graduates looked at themselves and decided they didn’t want to find nothing.

During the speech, he told the crowd, “Every one of us here can say that we have journeyed to find ourselves and were not disappointed. Because we found something, we found a purpose. We found hope, we found a future. A future that is bright with possibilities.”

Apple also told students that their lives are about to change irrevocably, whether they’re continuing their education, or finishing up and heading into the workforce.

“Our lives will never be the same,” he said.

Before coming to ASUMH, Apple enrolled at Florida State University in 2009 but dropped out. He told The Bulletin during his time in Florida, he was young and didn’t care.

He wanted to go back to school because he realized he didn’t like the place he was in life. He worked for a restaurant for about three years.

Apple told The Bulletin he walked on campus and was terrified, saying that he had no clue what he was going to do. He asked Allison Haught, recruiter and admissions counselor for ASUMH, for help. Within 15 minutes, Haught answered Apple’s questions — and the ones Haught didn’t know, she put him in touch with someone who could help.

Apple said he was terrified, thinking that he was too old to go back to school or his test scores weren’t recent enough. But after talking to Haught, he concluded he didn’t have to be afraid of anything.

The staff at ASUMH care, Apple argued. The Yellville native said he felt like a number when he was at FSU. For example, there were approximately 500 students in his pre-calculus class.

“(ASUMH) made me feel like I could actually achieve all the things people have been telling me my whole life that I could achieve,” he told the Bulletin. “I just didn’t believe them before I came here.”

He said he had to build up the courage to go back to school, fearing that he wouldn’t have enough money. But ASUMH is affordable, he said.

As a student, he was involved with several organizations like the Stream Team, Gay-Straight Alliance and ASUMH Ambassadors. Additionally, he served as president of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society.

Even though he’s going to a big school again, he said this time it would be different, adding that he has the tools to make himself more than a number.

ASUMH Chancellor Robin Myers told The Bulletin, “It’s a pleasure to have served as their chancellor, and I look forward to their many great accomplishments in life.”

BILLY JEAN LOUIS , blouis@baxterbulletin.comPublished 10:14 p.m. CT May 15, 2017

May 17, 2017 10:15:00 AM

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