As a “nontraditional” student, U.S. Army First Lieutenant Nathan Siebach earned his master’s degree in Management and Leadership in a unique environment – online and mostly while deployed in Kuwait and at an accelerated rate. Because of his remarkable background, Nathan was selected to share his message at WGU’s 2018 Winter Commencement Ceremony in Orlando, Florida, but a week prior to the ceremonies, he was unexpectedly deployed back to Kuwait.
Nathan pre-recorded a video message, which played at commencement, while he was serving the country. The following are Nathan’s pre-recorded remarks regarding his journey to earn his master’s degree and the work he did to start his nonprofit organization Everyday Heroes.
“Fellow graduates, friends, and family, I wish that I could be delivering this in person, but about a week ago I learned that I was being deployed to Kuwait. I was so disappointed to think that, after being chosen as a commencement speaker, I wouldn’t be able to give my speech. But, in true WGU fashion, we aren’t letting the physical boundaries of location stop us, and I am recording this speech from my home in Georgia before I leave.
For the last 11 years I’ve served in our nation’s Army. I joined because I wanted to serve my country, learn discipline, and get an education. After completing Basic Training in 2007, I was excited to find out that my unit was deploying the following year to Iraq for 12 months.
Following my service in Iraq, active duty soon took me to Fort Gordon, Georgia where, after a few months I was informed that I would then be deployed to Kuwait for the first time. The conditions are much safer in Kuwait than Iraq, and I wanted to take advantage of the spare time I would have by working on my master’s degree. Of course, being half way around the world, with unreliable equipment and internet connections meant that I needed a school which was completely online, accredited, and would work with my schedule. I was so excited to find out that WGU is competency-based. I loved the concept and wanted to be a part of this educational institution. Regardless of where my military career took me, I was able to continue my work toward my degree.
Past WGU success stories of accelerated degree plans inspired me to set my own goal of completing the Master’s of Science in Management and Leadership degree program in just six months. It was scary and daunting, but the Army has taught me that you are stronger than you feel, more capable than you can comprehend, and more powerful than you know.
My mornings usually started at 5:30 a.m. and I would finish my military duties around 7:00 p.m. I dedicated every weeknight to my studies and usually went to bed at one or two in the morning. My entire Saturday was devoted to schoolwork and I took Sundays off.
Burnout came quickly at that pace and I was worried that I wouldn’t finish in time. My program mentor at WGU, Jelda, was a huge encouragement to me and held me accountable to my weekly goals. One of the biggest reasons that I was able to continue each week was because of her guidance, encouragement, and sincere interest in my success. My wife Emily, and best friend, Chris, continuously urged me to press on as well.
My carefully planned schedule was set back over and over again as my duties took me throughout the Middle East to Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. But, after four-and-a-half months of grueling work I had four more courses to finish and just six weeks before the end of the term. I had a tough talk with my mentor. For the first time I voiced my fears. I said, “Jelda, I’m afraid I’m not going to finish on time.” Her response was perfect for me, “You’re going to finish. You’re going to do it.”
Sheer will-power pushed me through those last weeks and I finished with a few days to spare. I was so grateful to be done but the best thing was being able to return home two weeks later and see my wife and friends welcome me home from a 10-month deployment.
WGU has taught me so much and given me the opportunity to earn my master’s degree in six months while deployed overseas in service to our country. I chose to get my degree in Management and Leadership to strengthen my capability as a leader and officer in the United States Army. This education gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed to create and begin work on my nonprofit organization, Everyday Heroes. This organization was created by veterans like me who have come together to dress as Superheroes and visit children in hospitals suffering from long-term and terminal illnesses. We hope to bring a little bit of joy to a lot of children.
While I’m not able to be there with each of you today, I’m proud of the hard work that we’ve each put in to earn our degrees. Thanks, WGU, for making it possible for me to participate in commencement this way.
Congratulations WGU graduates! We did it!”
To learn more about military benefits at WGU, visit https://www.wgu.edu/financial-aid-tuition/military-va.html.
Watch Nathan's commencement speech here: https://youtu.be/lCBVASewIEE