Like so many students out there, Jeffery Eberhardt was going to miss out on that traditional graduation experience.
Not only had the ceremony been postponed due to COVID-19, but Eberhardt wouldn’t have been there anyway.
“I was the second person to get on the ground here. And for the planning and standup phase, I was the lead planner,” said Eberhardt.
The University of Miami student dropped everything, voluntarily, to go to America’s epicenter, New York, to help on the frontlines.
He helped create and run a COVID-19 field hospital on the Columbia University campus.
It was something he was especially qualified to do.
“I’ve planned and executed a small clinic in Iraq, where we saw almost 2,000 patients in a single day," Eberhardt said.
Before he went back to school to become a mechanical engineer, Eberhardt spent 12 years as a special forces medical sergeant in the U.S. Army. So on top of the logistics, he was also caring for COVID-19 patients.
In fact, a majority of the people staffing the facility have similar military backgrounds.
“I’m not doing anything spectacular,” said Eberhardt. “There’s nothing magical about what’s happening. This organization is staffed by people who have spent their whole lives running toward the sound of gunfire. In this case the gunfire is contaminated lungs and an illness.”
It’s something he says he couldn’t do without the support and understanding from his wife and kids back at home in Miami.
“At the end of the day, I had to tell my kids if we’re ever in really big trouble, we would want someone to come and help us. And right now I am fortunate enough to be that person that could lend a hand,” said Eberhardt.
And in between the 12 hour shifts and other responsibilities, Eberhardt still somehow found time for classes to finish his final semester at UM.
“I found a few mins here a few mins there.”
And unbeknownst to him, his colleagues were planning a surprise graduation ceremony for him and 12 other graduates who selflessly put their lives on hold to save other people’s lives.
The special memory was captured on video. It took place on the lawn outside the field hospital with the community cheering them on.
“I probably wouldn’t have been for it at all but they had my wife and kids on FaceTime to watch it so it was pretty outstanding,” said Eberhardt.