Classes and finals are over and, on a college campus that usually means the great exodus of students and very quiet days on campus.
This seems like the right time to reflect on this past year and some of the trends and challenges we saw on campus as well as some of the success stories as I sit in an empty Student Veterans Resource Center.
On the positive side, this was the first year that I can recall, since the Post 9/11 GI Bill rolled out August 2009, where we saw only a handful of delays across the campuses we serve concerning student veterans obtaining their education benefits. And that is a very good thing.
On the less positive side, I think we began to see more and more veterans struggling with the prospect of being in school as older/non-traditional students, worrying about careers or even just jobs after college, worrying about 2 or 3 years of college life ahead of them when friends are long done with school and have started on careers and families.
But, upon thinking about it, there is a positive in there too. Just the fact that we know about these struggles means that we (a primarily civilian staff of professional and graduate student interns) are finding acceptance among the student veterans on our campuses and that they see the resource center on campus as a place that they can come, vent, and maybe even get some help with issues.
Because at the end of every school year I reflect and wonder whether or not we’re making an impact and whether or not our very small program is meeting the needs of student veterans. I really think many of us who work with veterans ask that same question. I realize it just takes some time to get traction on a campus. To be there day in, day out, week after week, with a consistent, caring, authentic staff has really resulted in a level of engagement with student veterans that I wasn’t sure was possible to achieve.
The end of May is graduation across CUNY campuses and we are so excited for the student veterans who have completed this part of their educational journey. When they come back to school to pick up their diplomas we will continue our tradition from last year of making photocopies of each diploma and hanging it on the walls to serve as inspiration to those who are still in school and who may be struggling with the question “can I do it?”
Those diplomas and the stories about the veterans who earned them are inspirational, meaningful, and sometimes funny. In fact, we have a line we use frequently on one of our campuses where we point to the diploma of a notoriously mischievous student veteran who was known for his trials and tribulations in school and proudly proclaim, “If A. can do it, anyone can!”
Some of the student veterans I know mentally checked out of school in the middle of the semester (some even withdrew) and some used the opportunity to buckle down and finish strong and I realize that our job is to be as supportive in their choices as we can while making sure that if they’re leaving school, that they withdraw properly so that when they decide to complete their degree they don’t have dangling fees, incomplete or other potential barriers to academic success.
And for those who are sticking it out whether they’re struggling a little or flourishing in the academic environment, they need to know that folks are here, want to help, have a little bit of experience and can make the transition back to civilian and college life a little smoother.
It is still very quiet here, but I realize that summer session is right around the corner and we have seen an enormous uptick in number of student veterans who have decided to take either summer session one or two or both. Some are doing it for the BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing), some are doing it just because they don’t want to be faced with prospect of not having a routine every day, some are making up classes that they may have previously failed, some are doing it to help them finish their degree faster and some are doing it because their buddies are.
Whatever the reason, we will be here and congratulations to all those veterans who are taking the march down the academic aisle with a diploma in hand. We salute you!