As a current graduate assistant and veteran, I thought I would write a belated welcome to our returning veterans on campus. I have met some of you out there and know quite a few others, but I have a feeling there are a bunch of you keeping a low profile. In some cases, we trained you to do that, so that is understandable.
The transition from the military to full-time student is not as easy as it looks, even for those of you used to doing difficult things in the past decade. Becoming a student and blending into this environment can be surprisingly challenging for a variety of reasons. For that reason, I offer some suggestions to hopefully ease your continued assimilation.
First, let me suggest that, by all means, you do want to blend in. You might be older and more experienced than your fellow students, but I believe that you will learn as much from your classmates as you will from your teachers – and maybe more. In addition to learning from others, take some younger students under your wing and practice being a mentor to them. You saw that in action when you were in the military, so you know how it should be done.
To further this goal, be a joiner. Join a club, a sport, an intramural team, the Veteran’s Committee, a fraternity or sorority. The benefits of these activities are immense. You will meet new friends, catch up with old ones and make this university and our community a better place. You know what that feeling is like from your memories and experiences overseas helping foreign communities rebuild after years of war and neglect.
Now that life has slowed down a bit for you (in some cases it might seem too slow), take the time to enjoy life. Do something you have never done before. I took up gardening and youth coaching and found that both gave me a sense of peace I have truly enjoyed – and forgot existed. Another idea: come to the Veterans Day ceremony hosted by the ASWSU Veteran’s Committee. They do a fantastic job, and I have always been deeply touched and proud while listening to the amazing experiences of our young veteran students. The ceremony celebrates the selfless service you have provided for our grateful nation. Take the time to feel that appreciation from your community.
Allow me to share a cautionary note about a few things not to do. One, while our fellow students are exploring the wonders of alcohol and relationships, we have already covered all of this area in the past. Resist the urge to re-explore, or worse, to use alcohol as a self-medication device to forget things you might think are better off forgotten. We know already the benefits of social drinking and the dark side of abuse due to our slightly advanced age and hopefully corresponding maturity. Alcohol will also never bring back the people we miss most and the drug tends to exacerbate instead of mitigate these feelings of loss. To paraphrase Aristotle, these are activities best done in moderation.
Also, try not to be a know it all in class or elsewhere (hopefully I am practicing what I am preaching here, but give me some leeway). Resist the urge to respond to political opinions or poorly founded assertions about geopolitics that you might want to correct based on your experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. College is about challenging your own worldview with different ideas and opinions than your own, so take advantage of the opportunity and remember that advice about keeping your mouth shut and appearing wiser than you might be. I have no problems contributing my opinion when it is appropriate, but I also give a wide berth to comments that have not been well-thought out or researched. As you learned long ago, pick your battles wisely.
Finally, take advantage of a couple of neat programs here at Washington State University. First, the ROTC units on campus are welcoming and a good place for you to access military networks, tell your war stories or just enjoy a cup of (free) coffee. Second, the University College hosts a two-credit hour seminar especially for transitioning veterans, UCOLL 304, that focuses on preparing veterans for classes after a four to five year break in schooling. In addition to an in-depth orientation of the university’s resource centers, the curriculum explores academic majors and career planning.
WSU is ranked high among universities as a military friendly school, so enjoy your time here as a Coug and get the most of what this school offers you. Your fellow students are friendly and supportive and have a school spirit unmatched anywhere. Get out to a Coug athletic event, my fellow veterans, wear your crimson and gray and learn our great fight song. After all, who better than you would understand the words “fight, fight, fight for Washington State, win a victory!”
Craig Whiteside is a graduate assistant for the WSU Center for Advising and Career Development and a political science graduate student.