K-State Student Graduates On Anniversary Of Father's Death In Afghanistan

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Excitement was at a fever pitch at Kansas State University's Bramlage Coliseum over the weekend as graduates prepared to mark the end of one part of their lives and the start of another.

"It feels pretty great. I’m just so excited to finally be done. My parents and my aunts and uncles are here and my grandmother is here and they’re just so excited for me. I just feel like I’m closing a chapter in my life but it’s an exciting chapter," said Michelle Foster, ahead of the College of Arts & Sciences commencement ceremony Saturday morning. Foster was an American Ethnic Studies and Political Science major.

"I’ve had a great time at Kansas State University. I could not ask for any other university that would give me an experience such as this one... I have a great support system behind me, my family and I can’t wait to start my job and start real life," added Erin Gerken a Communications Studies Major.

More than 3.350 students graduated this weekend.

Commencement ceremonies were held on Saturday, May 11, at Kansas State University Salina, and Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18, on the Manhattan campus.

The university awarded more than 2,500 bachelor's degrees, more than 650 master's degrees, more than 80 doctorates, more than 100 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees and more than 35 associate degrees. Nearly 180 students are earning their degree through distance education.

For journalism major Kelly McHugh, her graduation day was bittersweet. Exactly three years ago, her father, Colonel John McHugh, was killed in Afghanistan.

"A suicide bomber had driven a van packed with explosives into a convoy on its way to a NATO peace conference in Kabul. The bombing killed 18 people, including five American soldiers and a Canadian colonel," McHugh wrote in an article published in the Kansas City Star May 14, 2013 titled "Kelly McHugh On A Soldier's Sacrifice: The Reality of Being an Army Kid."

The McHugh family was stationed at Fort Leavenworth at the time. Colonel McHugh worked for the Battle Command Training Program there.

"In May of 2010, he was on a training mission on his way to a conference meeting in Kabul when his convoy was hit by an IED... He wasn’t deployed. He was only supposed to be there for a week or so. It was a real shock to me and my whole family," McHugh told WIBW.

The suicide car bomb attack marked the first time during the Afghanistan war that three officers of those ranks were killed in a single incident.

Kelly decided not to let her dad’s death hold her back and moved forward in an effort to make her soldier, her hero, proud.

"He was killed when I was 18 years old. I was a freshman in college. It was actually during finals week of my freshmen year," she said. "He’s always been a huge part of my life. He was my soccer coach. So even though he isn’t here, he’s definitely helped me get to this point. And so looking ahead, just his influence and everything that he’s given me over the first 18 years of my life and everything he continues to give me will help me throughout the rest of my life and career."

Kelly beamed as she walked across the stage, the anniversary of her father’s death taking on an added meaning- showing how far she’s come. Her mother, siblings and other family members were there to cheer her on.

As Kansas State University marks its sesquicentennial, all of the graduates were challenged to live the legacy of excellence and integrity built at K-State over the past 150 years.

The class of 2013 is the 146th to graduate from Kansas State University since the first class graduated in 1867. To honor the class of 2013 and its place in the university's history, graduates received special diplomas that commemorate the university's 150th birthday.

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