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Eleven-year-old accepts diploma for military dad deployed in Iraq

Josh Hughes became the youngest person to receive an Elon diploma Friday, May 21 when he stood in for his father, Steve, at the MBA graduation ceremony in Whitley Auditorium. Details...

A photo of Josh HughesJosh Hughes is only a fifth grader, and although he’s never written a business plan or analyzed the latest numbers from Wall Street, he was among the 41 graduates receiving diplomas at Elon University’s MBA commencement exercises on May 21.

Eleven-year-old Josh stood in at the ceremony for his father, Capt. Steve Hughes, who is in the third month of a yearlong deployment in Iraq with the National Guard’s 1-120th, which is based in Wilmington, N.C., and is part of the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade.

Steve Hughes, a regional sales manager for Burlington Industries who lives in Gibsonville, was enrolled in his final MBA course when his Guard unit was recalled to active duty in September. Elon officials allowed him to complete a project to satisfy his degree requirements while he underwent five months of training in Georgia before his deployment to Iraq Feb. 28.

But with commencement scheduled for May, there was no way Steve Hughes would be able to attend the ceremony in Whitley Auditorium. Instead, he would be in Iraq, working as a battalion maintenance officer, in charge of maintenance for a fleet of 160 military vehicles and equipment.

Hughes had a plan.

“It was Steve’s idea to have Josh accept his diploma,” says Hughes’ wife of 13 years, Juanita, a labor and delivery nurse at Duke University Hospital in Durham. “He hated having to miss commencement, so he wanted Josh to represent him.”

Elon administrators agreed to the request, and they even made sure Josh had his own cap and gown for the ceremony. He was the youngest person to receive a diploma in Elon history.

Steve Hughes, via e-mail from Iraq, says Josh accepting the diploma is one more thing that helps keep his family connected during his absence.

“I’m very proud of him,” Steve Hughes says. “Although he will always remember when ‘daddy went off to war,’ he will also remember that I asked him to do this for me in my absence. The ceremony will be a special memory in his life, as well as mine.”

Josh attends Elon Elementary School and stays active with soccer, basketball, Odyssey of the Mind competitions and Cub Scouts. He recently earned the Arrow of Light, the highest honor a Cub Scout can receive.

Josh continues to play baseball for the little league team his father coached, the Gibsonville Giants. Since Steve Hughes was called to active duty, the team has worn yellow ribbons with small American flags on their caps to honor their coach.

In Iraq, Steve Hughes, at right, is already putting the diploma his son accepted to good use. As part of his final MBA project, Hughes developed a system to help the military transport vehicles and repair parts to Iraq in a more timely fashion. “I know he was going to try to put at least part of his project into effect,” Juanita Hughes says.

Juanita Hughes says her husband wanted his wife and son to keep a normal routine while he is in Iraq. “Despite him being gone, Steve likes us to continue doing normal things and doesn’t want us to miss out. We videotape events and send the tapes to him.”

Undoubtedly, a videotape of Josh at commencement will soon be headed to Steve in Iraq. Before the ceremony, Josh said he was excited about the chance to accept his dad's diploma, but he wasn't sure what he would be thinking about when his father’s name was called. “Maybe I’ll be thinking about what to tell him about it, what it was like,” Josh says.

Click here to read the story in the Raleigh News & Observer.

Click here to read the story in the May 22 edition of the Greensboro News & Record.

David Hibbard,
Staff
5/22/2004 2:47 PM