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Dr. Joey Rivera, B.G.S. ’93, stood on

stage at the 2016 Commencement

ceremony, surveying the hundreds of

caps and gowns and eager faces in

front of him.

Rivera has been an anti-terrorist

specialist in the U.S. Marines and

a lieutenant colonel in the Army

Reserve. He holds a doctorate in

software engineering from the

prestigious Naval Postgraduate

School. He is the founder and

president/CEO of the Rivera Group

and provides expertise in cyber

warfare for the U.S. Cyber Command.

But the moment he rose to be

recognized as IU Southeast’s

Distinguished Alumni Award recipient

ranks among one of the most

significant accomplishments in his


“I was the guy that wasn’t supposed

to be standing there,” Rivera said. “I

was the guy that didn’t graduate from

high school.”


It’s not something he talks about

often, but Rivera had a difficult

home life that resulted in him being

placed in and out of the foster homes


A ward of the court, he was a self-

described troubled child who bounced

around between family members and

members of his church.

At age 17, he was a runaway who was

brought before a judge at the Clark

County Juvenile Detention Center.

“I’m going to let you go home, and I

want you to come back tomorrow with

a Marine Corps recruiter,” the judge


When Rivera returned the next day

with a recruiter, the judge placed a

hand on Rivera’s shoulder, looked him

dead in the eye and said something

Rivera would never forget.

“Somewhere in here is a good kid,” the

judge told him. “Put him in the Marine

Corps and get him out of here as soon

as possible.”

The next thing Rivera knew, he was

on his way to Parris Island, South


What followed was what Rivera called

his “first introduction to structure,” as

he rose through the ranks to become

an anti-terrorist specialist whose

international travels enabled him to

gain global experience in places like

Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Australia,

Hong Kong and Malaysia.

The Marine Corps imparted a valuable

lesson that Rivera carried on into the

business world, a mantra that has

become a personal motto.

“When you think you’re done, you’re

not even close,” he said. “You have

gears left. You just need someone to

help you find them.”

He learned that lesson during a

decorated career as a drill sergeant.

It’s how he motivated his troops to

push through their training.

“Where they think their limits are,

that’s actually where they’re just

beginning,” he said. “The more you

teach that, the more you learn that

people have many gears in them.

There’s a self-realization there.”

In 1988, at the age of 22, Rivera left

the Marine Corps, earned his GED,

enlisted into the Army Reserves and

was accepted at IU Southeast.

His GI check had not arrived by the

time he started classes, so Rivera

lived out of his car for the entire

first semester. Armed with a travel

iron, an ironing board and a car full

of essentials, Rivera would park

by the athletics’ baseball field, run

physical training with the ROTC in the

mornings, shower in the gym, iron his

clothes and go to school. Because he

never finished high school, Rivera had

to take the “very, very basic classes”

at IU Southeast in order to learn

rudimentary sentence structure.

Having slept in the field five or six

By Rachel Terlep