Columbia College graduation includes naval petty officer

Saturday, December 19, 2009 | 4:20 p.m. CST; updated 9:40 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 19, 2009
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Columbia College held its winter commencement ceremony on Saturday inside its Southwell Gymnasium. President Gerald Brouder conferred degrees to 388 students, including Navy Petty Officer First Class, Master at Arms Brant Baylis, a Columbia native who earned his degree while serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

COLUMBIA — Brant Baylis, a petty officer first class and master at arms in the U.S. Navy, traveled a long way to attend his graduation at Columbia College on Saturday. He flew in on Wednesday evening from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where he was taking classes at one of Columbia College’s 34 locations. 

“It worked out perfectly,” Baylis said in a phone interview Friday.

Baylis was among 388 students who graduated during the noon commencement in the gymnasium of Southwell Complex. Chris Belcher, the superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, gave the commencement address at the hour-and-a-half-long ceremony.

Belcher told a parable about men carrying bags of stones through a harsh desert to overcome obstacles.

“The value is in the journey,” Belcher told the graduates.

He also recited lines from the song “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan – one of Belcher’s favorite musicians.

Gerald Brouder, the president of Columbia College, then presented every graduate and undergraduate with their degrees.

A flurry of applause, shouts and the occasional air horn from the hundreds of attendees accompanied individuals as they crossed the stage.

Baylis, 32, was awarded a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration. He said he’s always had an interest in criminal justice. He was born and raised in Columbia, graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 1995 and enlisted in the Navy in 2000.

Baylis will leave Columbia on Dec. 28 to return to work as a guard at Guantanamo Bay. He compared his job to that of a corrections officer who provides care for detainees.

Baylis plans to finish out 20 years in the Navy so he can retire.

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