‘He’s an inspiration to me'; father, daughter graduate together
CLEMSON — Proud fathers usually watch from the stands on graduation day, but not Eddie Railey.
He joined his daughter, Reagan, in the processional on Friday, as they both marched into Littlejohn Coliseum to collect diplomas from Clemson University.
“I’m excited to share that with him,” she said. “He’s an inspiration to me. He’s a self-made man.”
Graduating with your daughter is extraordinary enough, but Eddie’s path to the stage was anything but conventional.
The 46-year-old from Chester did most of his studying online in Kuwait and Afghanistan while working for two different defense contractors.
“There were many nights I was studying engineering from Clemson and you would hear the sirens go off,” he said. “You’ve got incoming mortars. With a military background, you’re kind of used to it.”
Eddie, who retired from the National Guard in 2008, made it out of the war zone unharmed and is now working in Washington, D.C., as a consultant for Calibre Systems.
He received a Master of Engineering degree after taking part in a growing online program targeted toward working professionals. The program focuses on industrial engineering with an emphasis on supply chains and logistics.
Reagan received a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences with a minor in psychology. She has accepted a job teaching high school science at Dorchester Academy in St. George.
On graduation day, the Raileys attended a breakfast for students in the Master of Engineering program.
Eddie said what he learned in the program applies directly to his job.
“It’s almost as if the program was written for my career,” said Railey, whose client is the Defense Logistics Agency. “The good thing about it being online was that I didn’t have to be sitting at Clemson. I could do it anywhere. I took my Clemson rag with me all over the world.”
Each May, 50 new students begin the program. Assignments and lectures are delivered over the Internet. Students complete one class per semester to promote a balance between work, school and family life.
The program now has about 120 students and is expected to grow to 160.
“We started the industrial engineering master’s program with people like Eddie in mind,” said Bill Ferrell, an industrial engineering professor and associate dean of the graduate school. “He has one of those inspirational stories that makes you think, ‘If he can study in a war zone, what’s stopping me from going back to school?’”
The Raileys are in different colleges so they had to sit separately during the ceremony. But afterward, they joined together in a Clemson tradition. They flipped their class rings so that the ‘14 faces outward, showing that they’ve graduated.
“As a Clemson University graduate, I know how special graduation day is to Eddie, Reagan and all of Clemson’s graduates,” said Cole Smith, chair of the industrial engineering department. “We congratulate them. Many students will be leaving campus, but they will always be part of the Clemson family.”
The industrial engineering master’s degree is Eddie Railey’s first diploma from Clemson. He previously received a Bachelor of Science in business in 2000 and Master of Business Administration in 2003, both from Winthrop University.
The family sometimes jokes that he will need to get another degree when his younger daughter, Ryane, goes to college. She will be a student this year at York Preparatory Academy in Rock Hill.
“We’re diehard Clemson fans,” he said. “It was almost like a dream come true to have a degree from Clemson. Not only that, the icing on the cake is to be able to graduate with my daughter at the same time.”