(Dec. 19, 2012) -- Sandy Green still recalls how his teachers told him that education just wasn't his strength. They suggested he work in the steel industry like many other African Americans did in Pennsylvania in the 1960s.
"I just got used to the idea that I wasn't very smart," the 60-year-old said. But this Thursday, Green will graduate from UTSA with his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary learning.
Although he had a strong academic start in his segregated all-black school in Virginia, the loss of his mother and his subsequent move to live with his aunt when he was 10 took its toll on his grades. In 1970, by the time he turned 17, he dropped out of school to enter the Army.
The military gave him a chance to pursue a career helping people, something that he really enjoyed. "It was happenstance that I became a medic," he said. "I didn't know much about it, but, it was something that kind of suited me. I loved the service. I liked being around people."
Green served as a combat field medic in New Jersey from 1970 to 1973, then another three-year stint as a medic from 1973 to 1976 in Tacoma, Wash., and in Germany.
In 1976, during a four-month break from the Army, he encountered a life-changing experience. While driving down a Virginia road, he fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, he was jolted awake by rocks in the highway median.
"That scared me. I knew I needed to change things. I needed to do something with my life," Green said.
So, he decided to re-enter the Army permanently, albeit in a new role. He returned as a psychological technician.
"I wanted to work with mental patients," he recalled. "Medical ailments are easy to treat; you can see them. But when somebody has a mental ailment, it's hard to see. There are situations going on that are chemical or physical -- situations beyond their reach. I wanted to assist people. This is a segment of our society that gets overlooked."
Until his retirement from the Army in 1991, Green served in Philadelphia, Korea and New Jersey. Ultimately, he retired at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
Upon retirement, he enrolled in community college as a pre-nursing student. The single father took classes full time while attending to the needs of his three boys and working as an educational aide at Estrada Achievement Center in the San Antonio ISD. The school serves youth with special needs, offering counseling, chemical dependency treatment and other support services.
Frequently, Green would be assigned to the alternative class, a group of students that many substitute teachers found difficult to handle. He caught the eye of then principal Sharon Callihan, who recommended that he pursue a second career in teaching.
"I remember asking her why would I want to teach -- these kids are a pain," he said. "And, she told me, 'Because you need each other. The kids need someone who cares for them and someone who believes in them.'"
In 1997, Green began taking education classes part time at UTSA. A few years later, a VA counselor contacted him to say he would no longer be eligible for benefits. So, he dropped out.
In 2008, however, the VA contacted him to say that it had made a mistake. It wanted to reinstate his eligibility and encouraged him to return to UTSA. Green, in his 50s, flat out rejected the possibility. The VA counselor, however, was very persistent. She sent him emails and letters. She called him incessantly. Eventually, he broke down and scheduled an appointment with her.
"She told me that I owed it to myself and to my sons to finish my degree," he said. Those sons are now ages 31, 30, 28 and 7.
So, he returned. And in the process, he became interested in reading.
"Reading is something that kids with special needs have trouble with, but reading connects us with everything," Green said. "They say that initially, you learn to read. After that, you read to learn."
This Thursday, as Green receives his diploma, his family will be in the audience to celebrate his success. He aspires to build a career at the intersection of Special Education and Reading. In the meantime, though, he's relishing the prospect of crossing the commencement stage.
"I'm still pinching myself," he said. "It's still hard to believe I'm here. It still seems like a dream."
The UTSA Consortium for Social Transformation; African American Studies Program presents guest speaker Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, and African American Studies, University of California at Los Angelesand author of "Spaces of Conflict Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spacial Entitlement in Los Angeles" and "Futures of Black Radicalism." The event is free and open to the public.
University Center, Denman Room (UC 2.01.28), Main Campus
Put on drunk goggles and navigate a pedal cart at the U in the Driver Seat Alcohol Awareness event, hosted by UTSA PD and Sigma Lambda Gamma.
Sombrilla Plaza, Main Campus
The UTSA Honors College hosts a sneak CineFestival preview of the documentary Somos Lengua, a new documentary about the Mexican hip hop scene. Jim Mendiola, the CineFestival Director, will screen the movie and present a festival overview.
University Center, Bexar Room (UC 1.102), Main Campus
Grab your friends, family, kids and dog for this annual fun run on the UTSA Main Campus benefititng the UTSA Alumni Association.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
Join the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching for the 13th annual Storytelling Festival. The festival will feature keynote speaker Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, a Colombian Storyteller and journalist. This event is free and open to the public.
Main Building, ground floor, Main Campus
The IDS Colloquium showcases the excellent scholarship done by the IDS students in the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA. In addition, this event also honors the legacy of Dr. Marian Martinello.
Business Building, University Room (BB 2.06.04), Main Campus
The Department of Biology and the Be the Match Team will collaborate to engage and educate our students in the importance of a life saving donation through peripheral blood stem cells and a marrow harvest.
UC Paseo and Central Plaza, Main Campus
UTSA welcomes the Italian-born duo Bandini-Chiacchiaretta. They've toured the world performing Argentine Tango music on guitar and bandoneon, the instrument of Astor Piazzolla. Tickets are $10 or free with UTSA Student I.D.
Arts Building, Recital Hall (ARTS 2.03.02), Main Campus
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