Veterans Recognized at St. Scholastica

Abigail Blonigen
ablonigen@css.edu

For most, memories of war are distant: learned in history class or seen on the news. For others, the memories are closer to home: stories from a grandparent, brother, or aunt. But for a few, the memories are a part of who they are. These are the people we recognize on Veterans Day.

Although often overlooked, the College of St. Scholastica has a large veteran population. There are 139 students who served or currently serve in the armed forces, five ROTC students, and 53 dependents or spouses of service members who are served through the veteran center. CSS is a yellow ribbon school, which means veterans who qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill can attend tuition-free.

Also overlooked are the struggles service members face when coming back to school. This is where Jessica Johnston comes in. Johnston is part of the academic support services department, and has a special focus on veteran support. Johnston, whose father served in the National Guard for 20 years, knows the ins and outs of veteran benefits, resources, and runs the veteran center on campus.

“I always knew that service was important,” she said. “Whether it be service to country or service to community. I think that’s why folks are drawn to St. Scholastica, because our values latch on to the military values of service and community.”

Fifth year social work and peace and justice major Jayce Mayberry would agree. Mayberry, who was deployed once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, said he chose St. Scholastica because of the class sizes and the bond he had with the campus.

“It was just big enough for me to be able to spread my wings and be normal, as opposed to going to a bigger school like UMD or [The University of Minnesota Twin Cities] or somewhere where you’re just a number,” he said.

Mayberry felt he needed a change after his 10 years of service, so he decided to get his degree. “I feel here at Scholastica I have more of a voice to share my experience with others and to give them the knowledge that I have to help them further themselves,” he said.

Amy Anderson, who is now a junior, came for the nursing program.

“When it came to applying to college, Scholastica seemed like one of the schools that had more veteran friendly programs as well as faculty, counselors, and staff that actually knew about
the benefit,” she said.

Anderson served in the U.S. Navy for five years and was deployed three times in the Persian Gulf. Her primary job was aviation ordnance which had to do with loading and then taking care of the weapon stores with the fighter jets. She joined the service right after high school with college in mind.

Junior english education major Chad Graden, who writes a weekly column for the Cable, also recognized CSS’s veteran-friendly programs.

After touring the college, he was at a doctor’s appointment at a VA where he picked up a magazine which sealed the deal.

“I don’t remember what magazine it was, but it listed St. Scholastica as the number one veteran friendly school in the upper midwest,” he said.

Graden was an artilleryman in the Army, and served for over five years. Though he was stationed in Germany, he spent an entire tour plus three or four months in Afghanistan, and was declared medically retired after breaking his back.

Not having a degree bothered him. “Halfway through my military career I decided I was going to go back to school. I think the military actually gave me the confidence to go back,” Graden said.

These veterans all qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which guarantees them free tuition as well as a stipend for living and books, so they can focus on academics.

Although this bill eliminates the financial barrier, there are still several obstacles veterans face in coming back to school, one of which is being a non-traditional student.

“The biggest challenge I had was sitting in a class with people who were much younger than me, who had a different point of view on life, or who maybe didn’t have a whole lot of life experiences yet,” said Graden. Some things students would do or say would bother him, such as showing up late to class, not using their professor’s title, and talking out of turn. “It was hard not to turn around and give them the drill sergeant voice.”

The sedentary style of college versus the service is a difficult adjustment as well. “Being a veteran, we’re more hands-on,” said Mayberry. “That’s just the way we operate. Sometimes sitting for long periods of time in dry classes can become a bit agitating, creating a lot of anxiety.”

The college environment is also far less structured than the military, so it is sometimes hard for veteran students to figure out how to prioritize their time, as they are no longer being told what to do and how to do it at a specific time.

However, the biggest struggle may be the misconceptions and stereotypes about the veteran community. “The biggest one is that veterans are a little weird, they’re a little crazy, especially the combat veterans who have been deployed,” said Graden.

Another misconception is that veterans are all 220 pound men made of pure muscle. “Veterans come in all shapes and sizes, colors, everything.” said Anderson.

Overall, veterans are normal people, just with different life experiences than the traditional college student.

“We’re just like everybody else,” said Graden. “Veterans are just here to try to better themselves and their lives. A lot of us are going to school to be teachers or counselors. We just want to help people just like people helped us.”

With these struggles come undeniable strengths. “They do bring a great amount of ability to get the job done, and persistence, and leadership in the classroom,” said Johnston. “I think
faculty really like having them in their classes.”

Often times, people genuinely don’t know what to say or how to act around our veterans, when really it is as simple as saying thank you.

“Regardless of what your political affiliations are, or what your feelings are toward war or other things, if you see a veteran, just take time to thank them for what they’ve done.” concluded Mayberry. “We walk up and down the hallways together and we just assume that because we’re here, things are great, but we don’t actually see what the past has been like and we don’t see what’s going on in somebody’s mind. Even if you just thank them for being who they are would be awesome, to give them that recognition.”

Upcoming Veteran Events:
When: Nov. 11 (Today) from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Where: Fitger’s
What: Veteran’s Day Hip Hop Concert at Barrel Room in Fitgers building featuring Jayce’s record label with artists from Duluth and the Twin Cities

When: Dec. 1 at 4 p.m.
Where: Duluth Vet Center
What: Educational session on how can you help promote veteran success