Education is the key message at CCAF fall graduation

Chief Master Sgt. Paul Thomas, superintendent of the 72nd Medical Group, was the guest speaker at the Community College of the Air Force Graduation held in the Tinker Club Oct. 27.

Chief Master Sgt. Paul Thomas, superintendent of the 72nd Medical Group, was the guest speaker at the Community College of the Air Force Graduation held in the Tinker Club Oct. 27. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Tinker's Community College of the Air Force Graduation ceremony recognized 126 graduates receiving 130 diplomas, with four Airmen earning more than one degree.

Tinker's Community College of the Air Force Graduation ceremony recognized 126 graduates receiving 130 diplomas, with four Airmen earning more than one degree. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

Education is the key that unlocks the door for opportunities.

That was the message Chief Master Sgt. Paul Thomas drove home as he spoke to a room full of Community College of the Air Force graduates, family and friends. The commencement ceremony was held Oct. 27 in the Tinker Club ballroom, celebrating 126 graduates.

Chief Thomas, the superintendent of the 72nd Medical Group, joined the Air Force in 1989 after graduating high school in Georgia. It wouldn’t be until 1997 that Thomas earned his first CCAF degree. He went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The chief, who went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, now advises the medical group commander, four squadron commanders and group staff on the training and welfare of the 213 enlisted Airmen. Prior to joining the military however, Thomas admits that education was never a priority. He didn’t realize the amount of learning and technical expertise that the Air Force required, and it wouldn’t be until he was promoting to staff sergeant and working through Airman Leadership School that he realized he needed – and wanted – a degree.

“I knew that if I wanted to advance in life, not just in the Air Force, that I needed to focus on my education,” the chief said. ALS was the turning point for Thomas in 1996, and by 2001 the chief had three degrees. A true example of persistence and excellence.

Tinker’s graduating class earned degrees in various fields, including aviation maintenance technology, criminal justice, human resource management, information systems technology and education and training management.

“I encourage you to not stop at your CCAF degree,” Thomas added. “The enlisted makes our Air Force great, and we want you to be educated. Knowledge is power, and when you have knowledge you can create opportunities for yourself and those around you.”

The Chief emphasized the importance of investing that knowledge into those around them, pressing the belief that reaching your optimal potential and serving as a role model will run full circle.

“Continue to press hard. Be that person to encourage the Airmen around you to earn their degrees,” Chief Thomas expressed. “You matter and you make a difference. Believe that and be the best person you can be. If you do that, you’ll make those around you better, which will make our Air Force stronger and our country great.”

The graduating class adds to the legacy of more than 512,000 officer and enlisted airmen, and half a million degrees awarded since the college’s inception in 1975.

The enlisted men and women who have earned the associate and applied sciences degrees comprise 35 percent of the enlisted force holding at least one degree. Ninety-two percent of the force’s degree holders have earned the rank of master sergeant or above, proving that the earning of a CCAF degree is critical to an Airman’s career progression.

Tinker’s fall commencement ceremony recognized the 126 graduates with 130 diplomas. Four Airmen earned more than one degree. The worldwide program exemplifies American higher education by utilizing and applying skills to enhance the capabilities of the United States Air Force.