FORT WORTH -- When John Frank graduates from Texas Wesleyan University in December, the Navy veteran will have a business degree that recognizes his academic achievement and a red, white and blue honor cord that recognizes his military service.
Frank, who served in Iraq in 2006, said it makes him feel good to stand alongside veterans who are being appreciated for their sacrifices to the nation while also marking such an important chapter in their lives.
"I'm going to get more out of seeing other people wearing it rather than wearing it myself," said Frank, who asked the university to add the honor cords to the ceremony.
Veterans participating in Wesleyan's December commencement will be the first group to receive the honor cords, said Allen Henderson, university provost.
"I'm asking that Texas Wesleyan allow any and all qualifying veterans to graduate with red, white and blue honor cords to honor them for their service," Frank wrote to university administrators. "I know this honor would mean a great deal to every veteran that crosses the stage."
Recognition of graduating students who served in the military or National Guard has been added to commencement ceremonies at universities nationwide. Columbia University in New York City has been recognizing veteran graduates with the honor cords since 2009. At the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, veterans participating in graduations began receiving the honor cords in May.
"We just feel it is a small recognition that we can honor them with," said Dennis Correll, associate dean for admissions and financial aid.
How veterans are recognized at commencement varies. At the University of North Texas, members of the SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society are authorized to wear a silver medallion with a green and white ribbon, which they receive at induction ceremonies along with an official certificate and an honor society coin. Student veterans must have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average.
Henderson said Wesleyan has established ties with students who are either veterans or planning to enter the military after graduation, so adding the honor cords seemed like a natural move. The campus has about 125 students who are veterans or in ROTC programs. Total fall enrollment is 3,181, according to the university. Henderson said the school's veteran enrollment has grown; the campus recently added the Texas Wesleyan Veterans Club to student organizations.
"The support for the men and women coming back to get their education has been really good by the military," Henderson said.
Additionally, veterans realize that a degree can help them find better-paying jobs in the civilian job market.
"The value of education is rising," Henderson said.
Frank and fellow veteran Wesleyan students agreed, saying that after leaving the military they took time to reassess their futures. While grappling with post-war issues, family and jobs, they realized they wanted to get a degree, but going to college isn't easy -- they have to get used to the idea that they are nontraditional students who have been out of school for a while.
Carolyn Clontz, an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, said vets often struggle to fit in, to adjust to new teaching methods and with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. They also have to figure out how to tap into military benefits such as the GI Bill.
The veterans said they appreciate that the honor cords will be incorporated into campus tradition.
"The recognition goes a long way," said Rob Tutt, who served tours in Iraq while in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675