Army Veteran Graduates, Inspired by Sons

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Commencement Story:  Jose M. Rivera, UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, Class of 2016

Those who fight so that we can be free are not the people we picture in the hospitality industry. Yes, they have the mindset to serve, but combat boots and Kevlar vests are not the things of high-end hospitality venues. Yet, Jose M. Rivera, a veteran of the United States Army is putting his desire to serve in a softer venue when he receives his Bachelors of Science in Hospitality Management on December 16, 2017. Rivera’s desire to serve was fostered by his grandfather, who fought in World War II.

“Before I joined the army, I asked my grandfather, who has since passed away, why he joined the military and fought in World War II.  His reply was that he wanted for me to have the privilege to go home every day to a safe home and country,” said Rivera. “He inspired me and I wanted to do the same for my kids, family and friends, for them to have the same privilege my grandfather gave to us, to live in peace and harmony.”

Rivera’s grandfather may have inspired him to join the army to fight for freedom, but it was his own two sons, Christian and Christopher, who pushed him to academic success. Christian, now 16 soon to be 17 on December 28th, plans to join the Air Force as soon as he graduates from Dr. Phillips High School. Christopher, age 14, wants to be a professional chef. Honorably discharged from the Army and a single-dad following a divorce in 2004, Rivera found himself raising the two boys far from family who live in New York City and Puerto Rico.

“In the kitchen of my home back in 2011, my sons told me one day that they’d respect me and stay focused academically all the way to a Master’s degrees or more, but they wanted me to do the same,” said Rivera “So Christian and Christopher made a dad and sons bet and it was for me to get academically strong, just like I wanted them to be. I accepted our family bet and registered at Valencia College in January 2012 seeking an Associate degree in Hospitality Management. I graduated Valencia in December 2014, I did it for my sons.”

Rivera was able to use UCF’s Direct Connect to enroll at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management following his graduation from Valencia. The G.I. 9-11 education bill he was awarded helped pay for his education. His son, Christopher, hopes to follow in his father’s academic footsteps to Rosen College

“For me the biggest challenge was going back to school after so many years, competing with many new, bright and younger students,” said Rivera. “Also, the single parenting was very hard, but with much love, academic drive, focus and discipline anything is possible. I am very blessed and grateful.”

Rivera’s goal one day is to return to the University of Central Florida to seek a Master’s Degree in Education. He plans to pursue a career in the hospitality industry first and when he’s older he will use his Master’s Degree in Education to come back home to UCF and become a hospitality professor. It’s a bet!

(December 16, 2016)