By Anthony Scott
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON — By 1 p.m., the Bell County Expo Center was full of attendees, but there were no more of nearly 300 students who came clad in black caps and gowns. Each had since become a graduate of Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
Students had poured into the expo center’s main floor Saturday morning, filling up folding chairs in anticipation of receiving their diplomas and recognition for a commitment to education.
About 1,500 were in attendance at the A&M-Central Texas graduation ceremony, which started at 11 a.m.
“This university has ignited a passion for learning that I never thought possible,” said student speaker Katrina Hipp.
Hipp, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA, was nominated to speak by the school’s honor students, who graduated with a GPA of 3.6 or higher.
“(A degree) means that the world recognizes no matter how hard you work you stayed with it,” Hipp said.
The event included surprise guest speaker Billy Ray Cyrus and a second surprise where a husband returned from Afghanistan to see his wife graduate.
“This may be one of the most important things I’ve been asked to do,” Cyrus said. “To be a part of graduation for Texas A&M-Central Texas.”
Having missed his own high school graduation to play in a state baseball game, Cyrus said he originally thought he’d become a professional baseball player. Despite being scouted by professional teams, he said he decided to pick up the guitar despite not knowing how to play.
Cyrus also said graduates should find a goal, commit to it, study it, start working toward the goal and stay persistent if they want to be successful in future endeavors.
Amid the ceremony, Capt. Taye Moore with the 4th Sustainment Brigade came home for a brief window of time from Afghanistan to see his wife, Denetra Moore, graduate. Cyrus pulled her on stage for the surprise visit.
“It feels real good,” Taye Moore said. “I think overall we’re happy with the actual outcome of what happened. It’s real good to be home. I’ll only be home for a few hours, but it’s real good.”