The Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Oklahoma State University welcomed two alumni for their long-delayed formal walks across the stage at the December 2017 commencement ceremonies.
James Cavender, class of 1953, and Jerry Ott, class of 1970, both completed their degree programs in the college but military duty kept them from participating in their respective graduation ceremonies. Now, decades later, the two celebrated the degrees they hold dear with their family and friends.
For Cavender, who went on to found the Texas-based western wear company that bears his name, war tensions in Korea resulted in orders to report immediately to the Air Force. After he returned home and started what grew to be a chain of 80 stores, he had little time to return for graduation.
“His mother always wanted him to do it, but James being James, he was always too busy,” says his son, Mike.
On the other hand, when Oklahoma A&M changed its name to Oklahoma State University a few years after his graduation, Cavender was fast on the draw, paying his $1 for the diploma with the new university name on it.
Though it took him 64 years to make good on his promise to his mother, Cavender has always appreciated the price of that new-name diploma.
As he likes to put it, “That’s the cheapest education I’ve ever had.”
As for Jerry Ott, the Vietnam era was his roadblock to walking the graduation stage in May 1970. He completed his requirements for bachelor’s degrees in vocational agriculture and agronomy in the fall of 1969, but graduation was once a year in the spring then — and he was already stationed at the U.S. Army post in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Ott served 10 years in the Army and the Oklahoma Army National Guard and put his education to work as a vocational agriculture instructor, science and math teacher, principal and superintendent in the Ames, Drummond, and Pioneer-Pleasant Vale school districts. He is currently the administrative assistant to the principal at Pioneer-Pleasant Vale and lives on a family farm just outside Enid.
Ironically, as an educator and administrator, Ott has often officiated at gradautions over the last 48 years.
“Every time we had those graduations, I’d always think about not being able to walk at graduation,” Ott says. “It’s always been important to me. My parents didn’t get to see me graduate from college — they’re gone now — and I think of how they helped me, encouraged me and kept me going.”
While Ott says he does not feel deserving of all the attention, time and effort given to his day of walking across that stage, he is appreciative and proud to be an OSU Cowboy.
“I’m happy to represent OSU. I’m happy to represent the country, and I’m happy to represent the flag, because they’re all very important to me.”