WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — After years of study, research, late nights, and long papers, more than 200 graduates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas from the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management on March 24 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m so glad we are back in this place for our commencement activities,” said Walter Jones, AFIT’s director and chancellor. “It’s been a tough couple of years, but it’s great to be back, and this atmosphere is hard to beat. I am delighted that all of you could join us to recognize the achievements of our graduating students and wish them well in their next assignments.”
The graduating class included 163 Air Force officers and eight NCOs, 25 Space Force officers, five Army officers, three Marine Corps officers and 18 civilians. One international student from South Korea also received his degree.
Of the 223 degrees awarded, the Graduate School conferred 219 master’s degrees and four doctorate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Two graduates received dual degrees, while two master’s students and seven doctoral alumni who graduated earlier in the academic year returned to participate in the ceremony.
Capt. Joshua (Alex) Rinaldi became a third-generation AFIT alum at the ceremony. His father, retired Lt. Col. Steven Rinaldi, earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering in 1982 and 1987. Rinaldi’s grandfather, retired Col. Melvin Gillis, earned his master’s degree in logistics management from AFIT in 1969.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, the ceremony’s guest speaker, charged graduates to expand their new expertise into influence and recognize themselves as the catalyst for swift and innovative change that can meet current threats.
“You as AFIT graduates have the knowledge to advise your services and your nation’s leaders,” Kendall said. “Don’t be the ‘yes’ person who changes when I change and nods when I nod. You have the education and experience to be the person who uses data and reason to advise senior leaders, even when your ideas might not be popular.
“You must use this education and your ability to be an adviser and mentor and speak truth to power when you know something needs to be fixed. You are now action officers of modernization and therefore of freedom and democracy.”
Others officials in attendance included Maj. Gen. William G. Holt II, commander of the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, as well as Air University vice commander; Heidi Ries, AFIT provost and chief academic officer; Col. Paul Harmer, Air University Detachment 1 commander; and Adedeji Badiru, dean of the Graduate School.
“We can prevail in this competition between democracy and autocracy, but we don’t have time to waste,” Kendall said. “We need your leadership and your academic background to push the Department of Defense into the next 30 years of transformation, of unbridled innovation, of capability development.
“I look to you and your generation to be the leaders we need. You will make history as those military and civilian professionals who ensure America and its allies prevail. Before you receive your graduation certificates tonight, I want you to remember that you must use this education that your service has given to you to be the voice who speaks up for the change we need. Work quickly to ensure you create or design what our services need.”
At an awards ceremony earlier in the day, the following students were recognized for their exemplary performance:
Capt. Andrew Dittrich from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department received the Chancellor’s Award for producing the most exceptional individual master’s thesis.
Capt. Samuel VonNiederhausern from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department received the Mervin E. Gross Award for his exceptional academic achievement and high qualities of character, initiative and leadership. The award is named in honor of Brig. Gen. Mervin E. Gross, the institute’s first commandant.
Capt. Zachary Cleveland from the Engineering Physics Department received the Louis F. Polk Award. The winner of this award exhibits the highest standards of academic and professional accomplishment, and through his or her research, makes a significant contribution toward strengthening the nation’s industrial defense base.
Capt. Carol Bryant from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department received the Edwin E. Aldrin Sr. Award presented for displaying the most exceptional leadership characteristics while in the graduate program. The award is sponsored by the Wright Memorial Chapter of the Air Force Association and named in honor of Lieutenant Edwin E. Aldrin Sr., a member of the institute’s first graduating class in 1920. Upon graduation, he became AFIT’s first vice commandant.
Master Sgt. Michael Ames from the Systems Engineering and Management Department received the Secretary James G. Roche Award for demonstrating exceptional academic achievement through a combination of grade-point average and outstanding research, as well as high qualities of character, initiative, leadership and service. The award is named after Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, whose leadership in 2002 led to the first class of NCOs into the Graduate School of Engineering and Management.