Navy veteran Sean Roberson is a Southern California native and student at Coastline Community College, but his graduation Saturday will be the first time he steps foot on the school's campus.
In September 2011, he started taking classes at the Orange County college while was stationed about 2,000 miles away in Gulfport, Miss.
On duty, he'd train to handle or transport hazardous materials as part of his work in ammunition logistics.
Off duty, he'd take online tests or attend chat room lectures as part of his studies in criminal justice.
"There was never a dull moment," he said. "There was always, always work."
He finished his service in March and made the trip back to San Diego, where he lives.
Saturday, he'll be in Garden Grove to accept his associate's degree.
"I really wanted it," Roberson, 30, said of his education.
He's one of almost 1,000 military members —more than half the college's graduating class of 1,754 — graduating from Coastline on Armed Forces Day.
Coastline has small campuses in Newport Beach, Westminster and Garden Grove, but they specialize in distance learning.
"We've been serving the military for more than 25 years," Nate Harrison, instructional services coordinator for Coastline's military programs department, said in a prepared statement. "It's not unusual for us to meet our students face-to-face for the first time at our annual commencement ceremony."
Roberson said short classes with flexible schedules engineered around his unpredictable Navy duty were key to graduating, but overall, it took motivation.
His mother — who earned a second degree while raising her children when Sean was in middle school — was similarly motivated, Roberson said. "I can't complain about how hard my classes are," he said.
His mom will be there Saturday to watch him and 944 other vets or active-duty members graduate.
"They wear the uniform every day," Harrison said. "On this day, they look forward to wearing a cap and gown. It's something they are really proud of. It's something we're really proud of."
Active duty Army reservist Christina Hamilton is traveling from her home in San Antonio for the graduation.
She overheard other troops talking about Coastline and decided to enroll in healthcare administration classes.
A lot of services tout themselves as military-friendly, she said, and "this particular one really was."
Like Roberson, the 35-year-old is continuing her education.
She's enrolled in bachelor's degree program at Wayland Baptist University in San Antonio. She starts classes on Memorial Day.