Nearly 21 months after completing their final studies and graduating virtually, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security Master’s cohort 1805/1806 finally marched up the steps of King Hall at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA to an in-person graduation on Dec. 17.
Cohort co-president Alana Tornello said the Master’s cohort had established a very close rapport during their 18 months of studies spanning from 2018 to March 23-25, 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a shutdown of most travel and face-to-face interaction, and she said the opportunity to participate in the in-person graduation ceremony after being extended an invitation by CHDS to do so was much appreciated.
“It was overwhelming to be together again after (almost) two years,” Tornello said, noting that the cohort had developed an extensive relationship that included electing a student council including co-presidents in Tornello and Bethany Tiernan, and social chairs, as well as conducting town halls, and planning a series of activities around the original early 2020 graduation date.
Fellow Master’s classmate Brian Miller said it was “emotionally exhausting” for the cohort to have its March 2020 graduation plans scuttled at the last minute, noting that it had already reserved a hall and made seating arrangements for the occasion. While Miller said CHDS did a “great job” of conducting the virtual graduation ceremony back then, he said the CHDS invitation to the in-person graduation ceremony was “uplifting,” and praised CHDS for the generosity.
“Overwhelming gratitude is what I’m feeling right now,” Miller said just before the in-person graduation ceremony, adding, “that CHDS would care enough to bring us back for this.”
In all, 21 Master’s cohort 1805/1806 classmates returned to Monterey for the graduation ceremony out of the 25 in the cohort that completed their Homeland Security degrees. Another six students completed their coursework but had not completed their theses as of Dec. 17.
Tornello and Miller were both honored as the Master’s cohort’s top achievers, with Tornello pulling off what may be an unprecedented trifecta by winning the Butch Straub Award given to the cohort classmate demonstrating the most outstanding leadership, integrity, vision, and intellectual courage; the Outstanding Thesis Award for her thesis entitled “The Last Responders: Approaching the Disaster after the Disaster through Community-Based Long Term Recovery Groups”; and sharing the Mark Carr Esprit D’ Corps Award with Miller, as chosen by cohort classmates.
Tornello, who works as a human services coordinator for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Office of Emergency Preparedness & Response, said she was proudest of the Carr Award because it was voted on by what she called an “outstanding group of people” in the cohort, though she also said it “doesn’t always feel deserved” and called the honor an “act of love” and a “shared award” as a result of “shared leadership.”
“It’s really a reflection of our class,” she said.
For her thesis, Tornello said her goal was “to uplift the voices of community leadership” using lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, and called it a “labor of love” that centered a “collective, community-driven approach” to long-term disaster recovery.
Miller, who works as a special agent in charge for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, agreed the Carr Award was a top honor because it was voted on by cohort classmates. He said the award was about exuding “quiet confidence” and “engendering trust and empowering my classmates.”
“That’s how I live,” he said, “treating others with respect.”