Pittsburg State President Steve Scott called the theme of Friday's Meritorious Achievement ceremony "Southeast Kansas Day." After all, all three of the honorees come from within 30 miles: Mulberry, Pittsburg and Parsons.

Although Pittsburg State was the theme, the purpose of the event was to pay honor and tribute to three alumni for their works in career achievement. The three honorees this year are William "Jody" Billiard, Brig. Gen. Peter Gallagher, and Cynthia Lane.

William "Jody" Billiard

Jody Billiard shocked those who called him to inform him of the honor by doing something entirely unexpected.

"This was one of the few times in my life when I was speechless. They called and told me they awarded me the Meritorious Achievement award, and I was speechless. I didn't say a word. I heard a lot of, 'Hello? Are you there?'" Billiard said. "This is so meaningful to me. PSU provided me a foundation to do what I've done in my life."

Billiard, based in Charlotte, has been the vice president, chief accounting officer and corporate controller of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated since 2006.

Before that, he served in financial roles with Portrait Corporation of America, Tailored Management, TRX Inc., and Rapha. He also served as controller of the 1996 Olympic Games Travel Network with WorldTravelBTI (now BCD Travel).

Brig. Gen. Peter Gallagher

One would think a man who has conquered Jumpmaster School and Military Freefall School would not get the shivers from a single phone call, but one would be wrong. Brig. Gen. Peter Gallagher said he had "goosebumps" when he got the call about Meritorious Achievement.

"This is absolutely an honor. It's extremely humbling. I hope I can carry the responsibility of this recognition the rest of my days. I will prove I've earned it by serving this community with pride," Gallagher said.

It was with pride that Scott attended Gallagher's commissioning ceremony as a general years ago. Since then, Gallagher has been the acting commanding general of Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) since 2012.

He commanded the Defense Information Systems Agency Central Field Command from 2007-2009, served as deputy director of the Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell in the Pentagon, and served the Pentagon as the executive officer for the chief information officer/G-6 of the Army before his current role.

He's been awarded numerous medals, including two Legions of Merit, three Bronze Stars and two Meritorious Unit citations with one Oak Leaf Cluster.

Cynthia Lane

Cynthia Lane arrived at Pittsburg State with very little direction. She left with plenty of direction.

"I was surrounded by educators who nurtured, inspired and encouraged me, and never let me off the hook. What a wonderful place to be. It helped me understand what I wanted to do, and that's to serve," Lane said.

Lane has been serving as the superintendent of Kansas City Kansas schools since 2010. In just the last four years, she has been decorated for her work as superintendent. She's received the "Honored Administrator" award from the Kansas Music Education Association, the "Leadership for Learning" award from the University of Kansas, the Whitney M. Young J.R. Service Award by the Boy Scouts, and the "Superintendent of Promise" recognition by the Kansas School Superintendent's Association.

During her remarks, she cited Proverbs 22:6, which refers to raising a child up in they way they will go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.

"PSU did that for me... I'm carrying forward those lessons I learned in everything I do," Lane said.