National Guardsman returns to receive degree
(Jul 26, 2019) — Daniel McLaughlin faced some unique challenges in earning his master’s degree from
Kennesaw State — and then had to clear one more hurdle to attend his graduation ceremony.
McLaughlin, a first lieutenant in the Georgia Army National Guard, earned his Master of Science in Information Technology while on a deployment to Afghanistan. He wasn’t scheduled to return home in time for graduation day, but received last-minute notice that he could be in Kennesaw to cross the stage in his cap and gown.
The university honored McLaughlin at Thursday night’s Graduate College commencement ceremony with a special recognition prior to the conferring of master’s degrees. President Pam Whitten concluded her remarks by sharing a photo of the KSU flag that McLaughlin flew over the camp where he was stationed in Logar Province.
“Daniel, we are so proud of you for earning your degree from Kennesaw State while serving your country,” Whitten said, eliciting a standing ovation from the crowd at the Convocation Center.
“Wow,” McLaughlin said following the ceremony, “it is really awesome to be here with my family and get to walk across the stage after all that hard work.”
McLaughlin, who also received his bachelor’s degree in information systems from Kennesaw State in 2012, had no idea that a deployment would be on the horizon when he enrolled in the Master of Science in Information Technology program 18 months ago. While serving in Afghanistan for seven months, he took his final six courses online to complete his second degree from KSU.
McLaughlin initially was told that his unit would return home in September or October, and the date later was moved up to July 31 — still not in time for commencement. However, he was granted a brief leave and hopped aboard a cargo flight to the United States, then made the roughly five-hour drive from Fort Stewart to Kennesaw. McLaughlin arrived about an hour-and-a-half before the start of the ceremony, which his wife Sarah and their children Madison, 3, and Gavin, 1, watched from the front row.
“It’s unreal. I still can’t believe he was able to make it back,” Sarah said. “I am so incredibly grateful for it because Daniel worked really hard for this moment. I am always proud of everything he does, but taking as many classes as he did in a country where so many bad things are happening, I can’t believe what he was able to accomplish.”
As an added bonus, McLaughlin’s brother Alex was in attendance – as a fellow Master of Science in Information Technology graduate. Alex, who moved to Texas around the time that Daniel deployed, also took the MSIT program online and received his degree just a few minutes after Daniel’s special recognition.
“It was amazing to share this experience with my brother,” Daniel said. “He was coming back here to walk (for graduation), but I was going to miss him because I wasn’t supposed to be back yet. He and I are very close, and it could have been another 18 months or so before I was able to see him again.”
McLaughlin acknowledged that taking college classes while serving the Army in Afghanistan presents a unique set of challenges, such as having no available WiFi or having to move to different locations with his unit. However, he credited his Kennesaw State professors for making his MSIT coursework “a really smooth process.”
“It was difficult logistically, but it was easy in the sense that my professors were able to work with me – to facilitate the taking of my tests, or to move an assignment forward or back, or whatever I needed,” McLaughlin said. “I am just so thankful for Kennesaw State and everything they did here tonight and throughout the whole program.”
McLaughlin has to return to Fort Stewart to complete his demobilization process from the deployment. He will be back home for good in mid-August, to return to his life with Sarah and their children and his full-time job as a software developer for General Motors.
Photography by Jason Getz