Texas A&M University

Approximately 297 Texas A&M University grads made their way inside the Bell County Expo on Friday night among family and friends.

BELTON — Even though their graduation day landed on Friday the 13th, there was nothing unlucky about the 297 students who walked the stage as graduates of Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

The graduation was held inside the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.

The total pushed the university’s cumulative count to over 7,500 graduates since its inception 10 years ago.

One of the new graduates is 40-year-old Latrinda Simmons, a U.S. Army veteran. In her 18-year career, she was stationed at six different posts including Wiesbaden, Germany; Ft. Benning, Georgia; Ft. Riley, Kansas; Ft. Hood, Texas; South Korea; and Fort Bliss, Texas.

She was also deployed during three conflicts — Operations Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Simmons, who served as a petroleum supply specialist, said she had no aspirations for college at an early age. And, if someone would have suggested otherwise, she admits that she might have scoffed at them.

Now, years later, the proud mom of two completed a goal of getting an undergraduate degree that was two decades in the making.

“Whether you are going fast or slow, never lose your momentum. You gotta keep pushing now matter what,” Simmons said.

Another graduate is Alexa Easterling-Walker, 29, who knew she wanted to go to college.

After graduating from high school she attended Central Texas College, taking classes online.

Working part-time and going to college, she completed her associate’s degree in 2014, becoming a tutor at CTC in 2015.

It was at the community college where she met a supervisor who encouraged her to take the next steps towards her undergraduate degree.

Easterling-Walker enrolled at A&M-Central Texas in the summer of 2016, majoring in liberal studies at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Just a few months ago she applied for and received a new job with Killeen Independent School District, working as a special education interventionist with elementary school children.

“If you feel it’s the right time, and it’s a degree program that you are passionate about, I say go for it,” she said.

During the one-hour ceremony, A&M-Central Texas President Marc Nigliazzo spoke to the students.

“Today is all about you, what you have accomplished. Don’t forget that.”

Texas A&M University-Central Texas was established in 2009 as a member of The Texas A&M University System, one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation.

A&M-Central Texas is an upper-level institution, fully aligned with regional community colleges and offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees with an emphasis on access and affordability.

mbrand@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

City Hall Reporter

Monique 'Mo' Brand joined the Herald in May 2019. Before that, she covered border coverage and county government in Arizona. She also worked as a reporter in Kerrville, Los Angeles, and Norfolk Virginia. The U.S. Navy veteran grew up in Killeen.

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