Learning to appreciate a college degree

Wayne Amann, Chief of Command Information at the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency Public Affairs Office, proudly walks across the stage with diploma in hand during the University of Texas at San Antonio's 2014 Commencement Ceremony May 11 in the Alamodome. (U. S. Air Force photo by Capt. Andrew Caulk)

Wayne Amann, Chief of Command Information at the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency Public Affairs Office, proudly walks across the stage with diploma in hand during the University of Texas at San Antonio's 2014 Commencement Ceremony May 11 in the Alamodome. (U. S. Air Force photo by Capt. Andrew Caulk)

Wayne Amann, center, Chief of Command Information at the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency Public Affairs Office, waits with fellow graduates during the University of Texas at San Antonio's 2014 Commencement Ceremony May 11 in the Alamodome. (U. S. Air Force photo by Capt. Andrew Caulk)

Wayne Amann, center, Chief of Command Information at the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency Public Affairs Office, waits with fellow graduates during the University of Texas at San Antonio's 2014 Commencement Ceremony May 11 in the Alamodome. (U. S. Air Force photo by Capt. Andrew Caulk)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- June 22, 2014, marked the 70th anniversary of the GI Bill, the federal legislation enabling countless veterans to pursue an education.

I never took advantage of the assistance because when I retired from the Air Force in 1991, armed with only an associate's degree in broadcasting acquired while stationed in Iceland, I figured I could rely on my twenty years of military experience to launch a civilian career.

After all, I grew up in a household where my parents never saw the inside of a college classroom, but still were able to make ends meet.

I rationalized that hands-on experience trumps book learning, and employers would and should see my point of view. I thought employers preferred hiring newcomers who could start being productive from day one, instead of bringing a college degree to the table and having to be trained prior to assimilating into their workforce.

For nearly 23 years my viewpoint was valid, or so I thought. I was able to dovetail on my experience as a military broadcast journalist to forge a career spanning jobs as a radio newscaster, a television producer/director, a radio play-by-play sportscaster and a writer/editor.

During that time my wife, who earned a masters' degree in library science from the University of Texas, and I would have many spirited discussions about what's more important when looking for a job - education or experience?

Reality set in when I would apply for higher paying jobs. I knew I could bring decades of experience to the table and immediately do the work if hired. But, getting hired, getting my foot in the door if you will, was a constant roadblock. The overwhelming majority of positions I wanted to apply for required a bachelors' degree plus the experience. It was frustrating to say the least.

My wife encouraged me to take an occasional college class. The Air Force Civilian Tuition Assistance Program (CTAP) provided the added incentive of saving me money on my tuition.

So, as I checked off each completed course on my degree plan I eventually piecemealed together a bachelor of arts in communication with a public relations emphasis. I was building momentum.

I was officially classified as a "non-traditional" student as I methodically pursued my degree, usually one class per semester to help accommodate my work schedule.

I eventually saw light at the end of the undergraduate tunnel when on May 11, 2014, Mother's Day, at the age of 61 I received my diploma from the University of Texas at San Antonio during its commencement ceremony in the Alamodome.

That day forever changed my attitude toward the value of higher education. Sure, I felt pride and a palpable sense of accomplishment, but, I wanted more. It was important that two of my kids, both in their 20's who went to work right out of high school, saw me walk across that stage and prove you're never too old to get a college degree if you put your mind to it. I can modestly say I did something worthy of the term role model - and it felt good.

Now that I sport a "sheepskin" in my toolkit I have a new appreciation for the saying, "knowledge is power." Finally earning my BA degree has empowered me to consider pursuing a masters' degree, an option I never thought possible before this year.

I also never thought I'd be such a strong advocate FOR a college education.

I envy the millennial generation because by getting their degrees now, they have their whole lives ahead of them to reap the rewards a college education brings.

As for me...see you around campus!