NEWPORT, R.I. -- The U.S. Naval War College celebrated the graduation of its College of Distance Education students June 30 with a virtual ceremony.
In a normal year, these distance students would be invited to the Newport campus for a ceremony with the in-residence graduates. In this extraordinary time with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Naval War College chose to highlight the distance-learning graduates by holding a separate virtual ceremony with comments from Rear Adm. Shoshana S. Chatfield, Naval War College president, and a recorded keynote address by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
A total of 1,424 distance students are graduating this month with a College of Naval Command and Staff diploma for completing Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) I requirements. Additionally, 176 distance students will receive the Naval War College master's degree, which requires completion of the joint military education coursework and additional electives in an area of study.
"I want to take a moment to recognize the incredible amount of extra effort that you put forth in order to earn a degree or JMPE," Chatfield told the graduates in the event video. "I'm also a graduate of our College of Distance Education, and I know all too well the countless hours you dedicated in evenings and on weekends to your classes, research, your writing and all of that reading."
Chatfield said the investment of time and energy made by these distance students in the field of national security is admirable.
"You sacrificed a great deal in your personal lives to take advantage of an opportunity to improve yourselves and to improve our Navy's capacity, and for that I commend you. Thank you," she said.
When classes in Newport switched to an online-only format in March, the distance students were forced to do the same. Normally, many of these students attend in-person evening seminars once a week at locations around the United States.
"Academic year 2020 has been a uniquely challenging and busy one, not only because of our change to remote teaching in the Fleet Seminar Program in March, but also because we ended the Web-enabled Program and replaced it with the new streamlined 41-week long Naval Command & Staff Online Program," said Walt Wildemann, dean of the College of Distance Education, before the ceremony.
Wildemann credited the hard work and perseverance of the students and the full-time and adjunct faculty for graduation numbers remaining high this summer.
"I offer my sincere gratitude and congratulations to all the graduates and faculty for a job extremely well done," he said.
The College of Distance Education programs allow U.S. military officers and civilian federal employees to earn college credit in the evening, while continuing their day jobs across the country. The program requires self discipline and completing the requirements can take up to four years.
Lt. Cmdr. Lucianna Stamper, a Navy lawyer, is this year's recipient of the McGinnis Family Award for outstanding performance by a distance student. The award recognizes high standards of academic performance, significant professional accomplishments and a good record of community service.
Stamper started working toward her Naval War College diploma in 2016. Her progress was interrupted by a deployment, but she persevered and earned a place in the graduate degree program. She attended online classes through American Military University for her electives, eventually earning the Naval War College master's degree in defense and strategic studies this year.
"It is definitely doable, especially with a supportive command," said Stamper, who is currently an instructor at the Naval Justice School in Newport. "The hardest part is simply the time management aspect -- balancing a day job, family and the coursework," said Stamper, who is married and has a daughter.
"It was absolutely worth it," she said, adding that her job as a staff judge advocate involves providing counsel to commanding officers. "Developing a better understanding of warfighting, strategy, and the national security apparatus makes it easier to provide useful advice to commanders and line officers," she said.
The college's Admiral John T. Hayward Award for outstanding performance in correspondence education, which recognizes the highest grade point average in the three core military education courses, went to Rear Adm. Louis C. Tripoli of the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Established in 1884, U.S. Naval War College is the oldest institution of its kind in the world. More than 75,000 students have graduated since the first class of nine students in 1885.
The college has a prestigious group of alumni: About 300 of today’s active-duty admirals, generals and senior executive service leaders are graduates. Since creating a program for international officers in 1956, the college has more than 4,500 international alumni from 137 countries.