Sending off

Kyle Doyle

In a recent published study, the National Veteran Education Success Tracker found that since the post-9/11 GI Bill passed Congress and was signed into law by former President George W. Bush, more than 453,000 veterans have received their degrees, and that number was estimated to grow to 1.4 million in the next 10 years.

These student veterans who have completed their degrees have sacrificed a great deal in their lives, from being in the armed forces and going to school to some raising a family, working full time and maintaining lasting friendships.

To honor the graduating student veterans at Grand Valley State University, the GVSU chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA) held a military-ball-style gala Saturday, April 8, at the Alumni House.

The event featured a three-course meal and a traditional cake-cutting ceremony, which involved the cake being cut with a marine sword. Along with the dinner and dancing, there was an award ceremony in which graduating student veterans were given their veterans cords by GVSU Assistant Dean of Students Steven Lipnicki and GVSU President Thomas Haas.

“I salute all of you because it is a sacrifice when you raise your hand and swear allegiance to our Constitution and then serve through the years, and some regards, some of us serving for decades through a career,” Haas said.

At the gala, 10 of 70 graduating veterans were honored in the formal ceremony, receiving their cords from Haas. Those students were Ross Barrett, Kayla Clarke, Matthew McCarthy, John Hulka, Matthew Oudbier, Nathan Ruark, Matthew Seguin, Nicolaus Solecki, Phillip VanVolkinburg and Victor Vuong.

Along with these veterans, there was a tribute to fallen student veteran Joseph Early, in which his degree was given to his parents, who were in attendance at the event. Early died unexpectedly in October 2016.

“The Early family got the recognition they deserved,” said attendee Nate Koehn. “It was nice to see the president of Grand Valley State present to them a posthumous degree. I don’t think an event like this would have constituted anything better.”

At the event, there was a missing-man table set up at the front as a tribute to soldiers who have not returned from the battlefield.

“The table stands before you in its place of honor,” said SVA Vice President Samantha Rose. “The table is our way of acknowledging that members of our proud profession of ours are missing from our midst. They are those killed in action, prisoners of war and those that are listed missing in action.”

Along with the presentation of the cords, there was a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle. The auction featured a multitude of gift baskets complete with local West Michigan products, including candles, beeswax products, bottles of wine, free rounds of golf and more.

All the proceeds from both events will be going toward SVA-related events and the acquisition of a new veterans lounge.

The gala was the first of its kind at GVSU and something the SVA members hope to continue.

“You always have to start with number one,” Haas said. “This is number one, and I do hope that we can start a tradition as well.”