Communication graduate Michael Graham set to be commissioned as medical service officer
Saturday afternoon’s commencement ceremony for graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will be only the beginning of a week of milestones for Michael Graham.
The communication major is set to be commissioned as a medical service officer in the United States Army during a ceremony on Tuesday at Graham Chapel on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.
“They’re both really big, but I’m really excited for the commissioning ceremony because I’ve been working toward this for 10 years,” Graham said. “It’s going to mean a lot. It’s going to be validating and rewarding that I’ve put in this much work and I’ve finally reached that next level, and it’s going to be really cool to be able to say that I’ve been on one side of the fence in the Army and I’m going to work on the other.”
Graham, who grew up in Nevada, enlisted in the Army shortly after finishing high school. At the time, he’d been planning on attending college and studying engineering but changed plans after meeting with a recruiter and learning about the benefits he could receive from the G.I. Bill.
“The idea of free college sounded pretty good, and I had a bit of patriotism,” Graham said. “I thought, ‘You know, I should serve my country.’”
After taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery – a multiple-aptitude test meant to measure developed abilities and help predict future academic and occupational success – and with encouragement from his mother, Graham began training as a medic.
He originally planned on serving a four-year commitment, but military life, with its structure and the sense of purpose it provides, has suited him.
“It fits well with my personality,” he said. “It gives me the freedom to make decentralized execution. I don’t need to always ask my boss to get something done, but there’s always an overarching goal that I know that I need to go do.”
Graham’s time in the Army has also taken him around the world, including nine months in Kuwait and four years stationed in Germany.
It was two or three years into Graham’s service that one of his bosses suggested he work to become an officer. He was initially dismissive of the idea, preferring the hands-on activities with which enlisted medics are tasked.
“That’s the fun stuff,” Graham said.
Becoming an officer meant giving that up for managerial work as well as planning and logistics, and he wasn’t eager to make that trade.
With more time and experience, Graham found himself accepting some of those managerial and logistical responsibilities, and he realized he enjoyed other aspects that came with it, such as the opportunity to teach his fellow men.
Carrying out those duties as an officer offered the prospect of increased pay and more opportunities for advancement, but he needed to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Multiple supervisors at Graham’s last assignment had completed the Army’s Green to Gold Active Duty Option program, which provides for soldiers interested in pursuing a baccalaureate or graduate degree and earning a commission as an Army officer. They encouraged Graham to apply.
He was a strong candidate as he had already taken enough online classes during his time in the military to earn an associate degree in general studies with a 3.8 GPA. He also had performed well on the Army Combat Fitness Test and competing in Army medic competitions, and he came with the highest recommendations from his commanding officers, so he was accepted into the program to begin school in the Fall 2020 semester.
Graham spoke to a recruiter as he was trying to figure out where to study, and the recruiter recommended he look at schools in the St. Louis area. The first one he looked at was UMSL.
“It was good credit transfer,” Graham said. “It looked like a decent program, and I was like, ‘You can’t go wrong with a state school.’ So, I picked it, and I’m pretty happy I did.”
He didn’t know at the time that UMSL had been ranked in the top 50 nationally on Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Colleges” list for the past seven years because of its strong support of military-connected students.
Graham has learned why during visits to UMSL’s Veterans Center to get assistance filling out the requisite paperwork to make sure his courses are paid for with his military benefits.
At first, Graham considered majors such as business, general studies and organizational leadership, but he ultimately settled on communication – specifically strategic communication – believing it could help him one day work in public relations or social media marketing after his time in the military.
He’s been happy with the choice, finding supportive faculty members in the Department of Communication & Media such as Jill Alexander and Ryan Krull.
Graham has also gained some job experience this year working as an intern with the Barnett Agency, a student-run organization in the Department of Communication & Media focused on providing on-campus and community clients with strategic communication campaigns and public relations solutions, including communication research, content creation, writing, photography and social media management.
“It has been refreshing to work with Michael at the Barnett Agency,” Alexander said. “He is a quicker learner and eager to produce content that people will enjoy. As a group, we learned from him as well. Hearing about his Army career and the path he plans to take sparks energy in all of us. We are proud of his service and look forward to watching his career continue to grow.”
Most of Graham’s classes have been online the past two years, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but he still comes to campus frequently and enjoys studying in University Libraries or the Provincial House.
He’s similarly developed an affinity for the St. Louis region.
“It was an adjustment at first, but now I really like it, and I’m going to miss it,” he said. “I really enjoy the culture; the food; the different types of attitudes and atmospheres within the city – whether you’re downtown, Central West End, North County, South County. It’s really cool. The only thing it’s missing is a big mountain for me to go snowboarding.”
While in school, Graham has been a member of the St. Louis Army ROTC Gateway Battalion, which is based at Washington University but draws cadets from universities throughout the St. Louis region. He is serving as the battalion’s command sergeant major.
After getting his commission next week, Graham will head to Texas for officer training and expects to eventually return to Germany as he continues his military career.
He expects to be back in school before too long as well, maybe to pursue master’s degrees in business and healthcare administration.
“I feel like it’s something that I put off for a long time,” Graham said. “I’ve always been like, ‘I’ve got to get my degree.’ But it’s just one stepping stone, and now that I’ve done this, I’m more inspired to get my master’s. I always liked learning and higher education, so it’s been a good stepping stone for me to kind of take that plunge that was slightly uncomfortable, but now I’m excited to keep going.”
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