By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

When Tracie Prosser walked across the stage at Monday evening’s Tarleton State University-Central Texas graduation, she did it for the people who believed in her the most.

She did it for her mother, Rosemary Sanders Hands, who has membranous nephritis, a rare kidney disease. Hands would take care of Prosser’s three children, who are now 17, 15 and 4, every summer so she could take classes at Tarleton.

Though Hands must undergo chemotherapy for her disease, she was able to travel from Georgia to see her daughter graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I’m walking for the courage she had to fight,” Tracie said.

Prosser also walked across the stage for her grandfather, Otha Lee Prosser. He is Tracie’s “rock” and helped Hands raise her. He couldn’t come to Central Texas, but called Tracie on her cell phone before the ceremony at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. It’s something he rarely does, but he wanted to talk to his granddaughter.

There was a three-minute pause when Tracie told Otha that he would be in her heart as she crossed the stage. She was worried the connection was lost, but Otha was still on the line, he was just silent.

“It’s emotional for me,” Tracie said before the ceremony started. “This is an emotional day.”

Tracie has traveled that proverbial road taken by so many others standing with her. It’s a road that took Tracie from the small town of McIntyre, Ga., to Killeen. Again, like so many standing with her, the Army had a hand in that. Tracie joined the Army and spent nearly 16 years in uniform. She was a legal administrative specialist who served three tours in Kuwait. She left the Army in 2003 and decided to pursue a degree in psychology which later led to social work.

“I love helping people,” she said. “That was my passion.”

Tracie plans to continue school to get her master’s in psychology. She wants to focus on helping children and military families. It’s a world she’s familiar with and knows all too well the toll that deployments take on families.

Tracie began her schooling before she got out of the Army, but had to take a break from it for two years because she suffered from epilepsy. She had to get it under control, she said, and took a hiatus from her education from 2001-2003.

She again had to take another break more than a year ago when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Tracie credited her understanding professors and teachers for getting her through that difficult time. They understood, she said, and some even called her to check on her mother.

Tracie thought her graduation day would never come. She is the first of her siblings to get a college degree and having her mother in the audience was “monumental.” Tracie had to beg her mother’s doctor to let her travel more than 1,000 miles to Texas.

“I can’t describe it,” she said. “It’s something I prayed for.”

Hands didn’t know it, but her daughter officially graduated in May — she just wanted to wait until now so her mother was able to make the trip.

Monday night’s graduation ceremony lasted one day, but the rewards from the graduates’ successes will last a lifetime, said Teresa Matthew-Stewart. Matthew-Stewart also received her bachelor’s in social work and was selected to speak at the ceremony.

The graduates all have the capacity to make major changes in the world, she said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, III Corps and Fort Hood senior noncommissioned officer, told the graduates that they were the exception to mediocrity that is plaguing American society. The graduates are the people who America seeks, he said.

They are the people who lead, saying, “This is who I am. Look what I can do,” Ciotola said.

The 124 students who sat in front of him will save lives, he said, and be a beacon for countless others.

“You lift me up,” Ciotola said. “You inspire me.”

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at or call (254) 501-7547.

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