May 16, 2014
DALLAS (SMU) – When Amie Kromis walked SMU’s graduation stage a year ago to accept her degree in corporate communications and public affairs, Thomas Kromis beamed with pride. As Amie’s dad he had plenty to be proud of, but he also knew he would soon follow in her SMU footsteps.
Now it’s Amie’s turn to beam, as she prepares to watch her father graduate from SMU with a bachelor’s degree in applied physiology and sport management from the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. At 45, Thomas Kromis is also leaving the Hilltop with a minor in religious studies and invaluable memories of having attended college with his daughter.
“I call him Mr. Superman,” Amie says of her father, a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant who is one of more than 30 veterans graduating from SMU over Spring 2014 Commencement Weekend. “Whenever I think of everything he’s gone through and accomplished, I’m humbled,” she says.
The stories behind their individual SMU journeys are particularly meaningful to Thomas and Amie, who each credit the other for their academic success stories. Thomas was the first to urge Amie to attend SMU after he moved back to his native North Texas in 2008 after retiring from 21 years of U.S. Marine Corps service.
As Amie remembers it, it all began when her dad invited her to a football game at Ford Stadium.
“The U.S. Naval Academy graduates not only Navy sailors, but also Marines, so as a Marine my father has long been a Navy football season ticket holder,” she says. “Many Navy coaches have either played or coached under June Jones, so my father immediately bought 2008 SMU season tickets when he learned Coach Jones would be at SMU.”
After that first game, Thomas encouraged Amie, a scholarly, community-minded high school senior living with her mother in Nashville, to consider attending SMU. It was an exceptional school, he thought, but he wanted her to live closer to him after they had lived thousands of miles apart for most of Amie’s life after Thomas and Amie’s mother divorced. Amie liked the idea of being closer, too, but her desire to become a Mustang was sealed after she made an official visit and “fell in love with the campus,” she says.
Amie began as an SMU student in 2009, assisted by scholarships and grants. Meanwhile, Thomas transferred credits from courses taken while in the military, and began adding to them with others at North Lake College. After earning his associate’s degree, it was Amie who urged him to apply to SMU.
“I never dreamed it would even be possible for me to attend SMU,” Thomas says. “But I thought, if Amie can do it, I can do it – or at least try. Besides, I was the one who always told Amie that if she wanted something badly enough, with hard work she could make it happen.”
With support from the G.I. bill, SMU’s Yellow Ribbon program, the University’s Opportunity Award and Tuition Equalization Grant, Thomas joined SMU in fall 2012 as a junior aiming for a degree in applied physiology and sport management, taking classes on his two days off from his full-time job as director of personal training at Life Time Fitness in Flower Mound.
“Sports have always been a bonding activity for us, and we continued that bond throughout our time at SMU,” Amie says. The father and daughter have both worked for the SMU football team – Thomas in the compliance department and Amie as an athletic trainer.
Sport management was a “natural transition” for Thomas from the highly physical work in the Marine Corps, where he also coached the U.S. Marine Corps basketball team. Participating in sports has long been a goal for Thomas, whose after-school jobs prevented him from participating in high school sports.
Thomas graduated from Richardson’s Berkner High School in 1987 — by coincidence, in SMU’s old Moody Coliseum. He was impressed with SMU but left for Marine boot camp in San Diego a week after graduation. His orders sent him to Tennessee to learn to be a radar technician, and that’s where he met the woman who would become Amie’s mother.
Thomas’ military career led him to travel the world to work on air traffic control radar systems, but he and Amie kept in touch. “He sent letters from every country he visited, and always thought of clever souvenirs,” Amie says. “For instance, he sent bottles of sand from all the countries in the Middle East.”
Thomas and Amie Kromis
But Thomas also wanted to continue his education. “So for more than 20 years, wherever I was stationed, I took evening classes,” he says. What appealed to him most about SMU was its relatively small student body, “which allows professors to spend more one-on-one time with students,” he says. “I believe that really helped me as a non-traditional, older student” who would eventually join the National Honors Society for Veterans.
Thomas also credits the discipline and confidence he learned from the military: “It’s easy to take that for granted until you see younger students … scared to death about giving a presentation,” he says. His attendance at military leadership schools gave him an edge on how to “teach, motivate and project.”
And Thomas learned from Amie’s campus experience – from navigating the map to trading insight on professors, especially those they shared while both pursuing minors in religious studies.
“Just being able to take religious studies classes was nice,” Thomas says. “When Amie chose the subject, it definitely piqued my interest. One reason is that during my world travels I’ve had to adapt to other countries’ cultures. Appreciating diversity, and understanding and respecting others, is something we all can benefit from.”
Amie would have to agree. The job she landed after graduation was as diversity and inclusion coordinator for Skanska USA’s Midwest division, based back in Nashville.
Amie says seeing her father wear the SMU cap and gown will be surreal: “I know it’s something he’s wanted for so long, and when he’s handed the diploma, I’ll be very proud – really like a proud parent.”
Thomas says knowing that Amie will be in the audience is almost overwhelming.
“I always taught her that you can accomplish anything, even the unthinkable,” Thomas says. “And she could have easily ignored me, as many children do when their parents dispense advice. But she took my advice to heart. And I’m proud to have taken hers to heart too.”
Amie appreciates that her father’s undergraduate degree “is more than 25 years in the making,” she says. “As we get older, it becomes easy to become complacent and defer dreams. But my father pushed all of his potential excuses aside and is graduating from one of the top schools in the country,” she says. “His graduation is more than just a celebration for me. It is also a life lesson. I couldn’t be more thankful to have such an amazing father.”
If Amie’s heart was not already full, another important man in her life also is graduating from SMU this weekend: Her fiancé, Christopher O’Riley, will earn his divinity degree from Perkins School of Theology. They plan to marry Aug. 30 in Dallas.
Amie’s dad, knowing Christopher is getting “a great education, and a terrific wife,” wholeheartedly approves.