PANAMA CITY — It was all stars and stripes for Gulf Coast State College on Thursday, as Gov. Rick Scott and officials honored military students for their service at a host of events that included a groundbreaking ceremony and a dinner.
To celebrate Armed Forces Day on Saturday, officials took their shovels to the ground for the groundbreaking of Gulf Coast’s Military and Veterans Resource Center, which is scheduled to open later this year.
Scott said he felt a personal connection to the groundbreaking, as he joined the United States Navy at age 18. He said he went on to attend college after he enlisted.
“I want to thank Gulf Coast for its commitment to the military,” he said. “This is a great day. This country, and clearly this state, believes in the military.”
“The groundbreaking is part of the college’s ongoing effort to support our military and veteran students achieve their educational goals,” said Lori Eldridge, the college’s donor relations coordinator.
The renovated center will give military students an area for studying, peer support, recreation and counseling. The Student Veterans Association also will operate out of the center, which once housed the WKGC radio station.
Suzanne Remedies, Military and Veteran Services director, said the cost of the center is unknown at this time but Gulf Coast (GCSC) will fund the facility. DAG Architects Inc. designed and donated blueprints for the building.
Later Thursday, officials held the Gulf Coast State College Foundation dinner, where the foundation’s progress was recognized, along with notable alumni and benefactors.
The college’s “Thanks a Million” Campaign was the shining star of the night. The campaign — initiated in October — was founded for the college’s Military and Veteran Services office to aid veterans and military students in gaining resources for tuition and other finances.
The campaign’s goal was set at $1 million, and the campaign currently sits at about $950,000.
Since the campaign, officials have helped about 1,000 students, said Bill Cramer, the campaign chairman.
“That’s about $100 per student,” he said.
Micah Welch, an Auburn University student and Marine Corps member, spoke to the audience about his journey from the military to college.
Welch attended GCSC and said the “Thanks A Million” Campaign means a lot to many veterans.
“When you walk into the veterans area at Gulf Coast, you can feel the love,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it wasn’t for the ‘Thanks A Million Campaign’ and those at Gulf Coast.”
He said the college set the bar for other institutions to follow.
All proceeds from Thursday’s dinner will go to the “Thanks A Million” Campaign.
In addition, two GCSC alumni were honored at the event.
Michael Papajohn won the 2018 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award. Papajohn is a Hollywood actor and stuntman, and has appeared in movies such as “Spiderman,” “Titanic” and “Deepwater Horizon.”
Timothy Garner was presented the Rising Star Alumnus of the Year Award. Garner is the co-founder of Garner IT Consulting.