It isn’t any sort of secret that, after grade school ends, we are all faced with the reality of bigger and more consequential decisions. For me, joining the military was the first big step forward that I made, my first big move, and it facilitated my education here at Nazareth. If there are any veterans out there, who are staring off into the horizon, unsure of where to go next, I’d like to draw your attention to this place; Nazareth is a great school that will accept you and enables you to grow in a new direction.
My first experience on the Nazareth campus was with Chad Van Gorder, the veterans’ enrollment coordinator. I was going to a larger state school at the time and I knew with absolute certainty that I needed a change to make the whole “school thing” work, but I wasn’t sure what that change was. I made an appointment with Chad and drove from Buffalo to meet him and view the campus. Chad convinced me to transfer almost instantly, and it didn’t have too much to do with what he said. It was his attitude and actions that made me feel comfortable and at home. He breezed through the clerical and bureaucratic hurdles that would be necessary if I transferred, introduced me to some students and the facilities, and finally asked me what I thought and what he needed to do to get me to transfer. I told him frankly that I had already decided to transfer, I just needed to meet him and see the campus to determine if the change was right. That next fall I was preparing for my first class ever at Nazareth.
Now, when I first arrived on campus there was a single issue, one that was quickly addressed by myself and some other student veterans; there was not an active SVA (Student Veterans Association) on campus. The right combination of timing, student veteran enthusiasm, and faculty support aligned at the exact time I transferred to the school and a group of us established a branch. We mostly did this for ourselves, so we could mingle and sponsor events for ourselves, but we also did it for future of veteran students.
Many veterans choose to live a scholastic life of solitude, either because they have family obligations, or because they don’t relate well to their peers. I cannot stress enough how important it is for student veterans to interact with their peers. I’ve had great conversations with other students about my experiences, both happy and sad. As veterans, our experiences are unique and unusual compared to our peers, we have a lot to offer each other in terms of experience and opinion. Veterans, share a tame version of your experience with your peers, you might be surprised by how receptive and genuine they will be in return. Students and future students, interact with the individuals you know to be veterans. Be patient with us, we can be difficult sometimes, but I promise we have a lot to offer.
Nazareth does something for veterans that other schools just won’t (I’m speaking from experience here), they’re going to sort you out. Priority registration, highly adept support staff, an active SVA (Student Veterans Association), and much more. Many veterans are already familiar with the unavoidable difficulties associated with registering and utilizing their hard-earned benefits; activating your GI Bill is no exception. For some of you out there who are dependents, individuals who have inherited education benefits from family members who served, this may be one of the first times that you’ll have to deal with this level of confusing bureaucracy. Chad knows the system forwards and back and had my paperwork sorted out instantly. What had been a headache for me at other schools was a non-issue at Nazareth.
The staff, faculty and fellow students here at Nazareth are unlike any people I’ve encountered since I’ve been a civilian. The transition out of the military has been… rough. Anyone who has gone through this or is going through this doesn’t need to be lectured on its nature or difficulty. For those of us who come back, who make it back, it can sometimes feel like we don’t belong. For me, I feel a sense of belonging here, and I think it has more to do with the staff, faculty, and fellow student veterans than anything else. If you are out there, unsure of what to do next, I would encourage you to come and meet us and see the campus. We’re waiting for you.