In the 191-year history of Athens State University, the complications of war have touched the institution many times whether it be at its own front door or through the deference of the planned educational pursuits of its students.
On Saturday, August 18, Larry Sharp received his diploma on the very spot where Madam Childs, 150 years earlier, had met the Union troops and saved the college. Sharp, who entered the then Athens College in 1963, was headed for Vietnam before he could march and receive his degree in 1967 in front of the grand columns of Founders Hall.
“We are happy to have Mr. Sharp with us here today to thank him for his service to our country and to offer him a second opportunity to participate in Athens State University’s graduation ceremony,” Athens State President Bob Glenn announced to the crowd assembled Saturday. With that, Sharp was properly conferred his degree of a Bachelor’s of Science in Education and had his sheepskin in hand.
“Regardless of your own personal viewpoint about war, or a particular conflict, we must recognize that the choice to enter into the service of one’s country is a noble and honorable decision,” remarked Glenn after the graduation ceremony. “To place yourself in harm’s way to protect something that you cannot hold in your hand, like country, or family or honor, is the very definition of valor.”
After his tour of duty, Sharp returned to Athens to pursue the graduate degree of Masters of Arts in Teaching in 1969. This time, his timeline was uninterrupted and he completed his studies the following year.
After leaving Athens State, Sharp taught, coached, and served as an administrator in Madison County Schools for 35 years. He also joined the US Army Reserves serving as an instructor for 23 years. Currently Sharp works in the health insurance business.
“My focus was getting to graduation,” stated Sharp about his college days. “I commuted (from Huntsville) each day. When gas prices got to 38 cents per gallon I would sometimes have to hitch-hike to and from school, but I never got stranded.”
“I think that the day President John F. Kennedy was shot will forever be in my memory,” recalled Sharp. “Such a sad day that the campus just went silent.”
In response to his being honored at Athens State’s graduation exercises, he stated, “my days at Athens were special in the 60’s and they are special to me now more than ever.”
In 2008 at their summer commencement, the Athens State administration honored George Partin, a World War II Navy veteran who was unable to march in his commencement in 1943 due to his military commitment. Partin received his diploma and shook the hand of the institution’s President 65-year later to the cheers of the assembled crowd.
“We learned of both Mr. Partin’s and Mr. Sharp’s inability to receive their diplomas in the appropriate manner by chance,” stated Glenn. “…but this is certainly a new tradition we hope to foster at future commencement ceremonies. It is the least we can do for the men and women of service to our country. I hope any alumni military personnel who have missed any aspect of their college experience due to deployment will contact my office so we can make it right.”
Sharp was among 123 students who received their diplomas from the lawn of Founders Hall at the August 18 graduation. Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama’ Fifth Congressional District was the keynote speaker at the University’s summer commencement service.