Guantanamo campus student and Columbia native to return for Dec. 19 commencement ceremony.
Brant Baylis is one of nearly 400 Columbia College students who will ascend the stage to accept a degree when Columbia College holds its biannual commencement ceremony at noon in the Southwell Complex on Dec. 19.
The 32-year-old Columbia, Mo., native will graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration.
Yes, Baylis is older than a typical traditional student, but that is not unusual: Older, working adults are returning to complete degrees at Columbia College in increasing numbers, driven by hopes of career advancement and facilitated by the college's Nationwide, evening and online options.
Baylis is a petty officer first class, master at arms, in the U.S. Navy, a position akin to an Army military policeman.
But his job title, too, isn’t an unusual one for Columbia College: The college has been educating military learners for almost 40 years. A substantial number of its students are active duty servicemembers and half of its campuses are on military bases.
Baylis happens to work on a military base –in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In December, he flew from the southernmost tip of balmy Cuba to often-chilly Columbia to participate in commencement. And that makes Baylis a bit unusual.
Baylis' job is managing detainees.
That is a job about as far from ordinary as you will ever find.
"My duty is to manage the detainees in a courteous, professional and safe manner," said Baylis from Guantanamo, where it was 90 degrees and sunny. "Safe for them and for us." Baylis goes on to admit that it is a tough job, "but I always try to do my job in the most professional manner possible."
Navy security will not allow him to divulge any further details.
This is the first class petty officer's second tour of duty in Cuba.
Completing the circle
"Brant is an inspiration as one who serves in the military with a full-time job yet continues to pursue his educational goals,” said Carol Martin, academic advisor at Columbia College's Guantanamo Bay campus. “What motivation and tenacity! We here at the Guantanamo Bay campus are extremely proud of him."
And by coming home to Columbia for commencement and spending the holidays with family, Baylis has come full circle.
Born and raised in Columbia, he graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 1995, where he played outside linebacker. He played so well that he was awarded a football scholarship to play as strong safety for Lindenwood University, St. Charles, Mo.
It was Baylis' first time away from home, and he admits he could have handled his newfound freedom better. "I started having more fun than concentrating on school," Baylis said. "It's an adjustment, living on your own. I wasn't ready for that. I was just not mature enough."
He returned to Columbia and disappointed parents in 1996; he'd promised them that he would earn a degree, a feat neither of his parents had achieved. He began working full-time again but realized he'd get nowhere without an education or a degree, so he enrolled in evening classes at Columbia College.
"That didn't work out either," he said.
Baylis then began to look into other alternatives and to focus on a career in the military. His grandfather and uncles have served in the Navy and encouraged him to enlist with stories of distant lands and exotic ports of call.
On Jan. 23, 2000 – the decision was so fortuitous that Baylis remembers the exact date – he enlisted. He had planned to complete just one enlistment, but once in the Navy, found he really enjoyed duty afloat on a Pacific Ocean destroyer. But he never gave up on his dream of a college education and continued taking courses online.
It was destiny
Baylis was first sent to Guantanamo in 2005, where he refound Columbia College. "It just seemed to be destiny," he said. "Here I was, thousands of miles from home, and there was the same college. I just started knocking the classes out." He received an associate degree in 2008, and will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree on the dean's list.
"Who would have thought it!" he said. "To be here where I am now, to be graduating, it's almost surreal. I can't express how excited I am to be finally done."
Baylis said his hard-won degree "will help out tremendously" in his career path of becoming an officer. His Cuban tour of duty ends in early 2010.
"Bahrain," he said. Baylis said the Navy will be sending him to provide security at a naval base in the tiny Gulf island kingdom. "I go where the Navy needs me. I can go anywhere with my job. I am versatile."