Our kinship with Veterans

Veteran_and_FlagMy favorite veteran, my Dad, would have been 91 on this Veterans Day. I miss him. But he and all Veterans never really leave us because of the unmatched legacy they leave behind. In the same way, those Veterans still with us give us an example of a kind of change that we should all consider every day.

You may think I’m talking about the fight for freedom or liberty or Democracy, but I’m not. While that is a lasting legacy of American Veterans, it is only one part of what they give us. They have another legacy as well, one more subtle but just as important.

Originally called Armistice Day, Veterans Day commemorates the end of hostilities in World War I. This occurred at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Seven months later, the Treaty of Versailles was signed with the belief that it was ending “the war to end all wars.”

We now know it wasn’t.

There are many wars yet to be fought — and not all of them are on a battlefield. There are battles against poverty, disease, neglect, lack of opportunity, prejudice, hate and misunderstanding.

Veterans provide us with a model that encourages us to stand up for what we believe, to fight for what is important, and to do so with unflinching courage and honor. Most of us are not Veterans in the sense we celebrate today, Veterans Day 2013. We do not have the credentials to rise to their level of service — often in faraway places, in distant lands, and many times under difficult and life-threatening circumstances — but we can emulate their dedication and their commitment to a cause. Whatever that cause may be.

The courage of conviction that Veterans exemplify and their labor to meet challenges and overcome obstacles is essential to any kind of battle. And in that sense, any of us could — and should — find ourselves in shoes similar to those of the American Veteran. Changing anything in the world for the better requires a level of conviction and commitment that Veterans so ably demonstrate.

And while we practice our own commitments to change, we can’t forget that in addition to setting a high bar, American Veterans have guaranteed us with a base camp of freedom from which we can roam throughout the world, where we can carry on with our own missions of change. Consider the hundreds of JMU alumni who’ve served in the Peace Corps, who have participated in Alternative Spring Breaks, who’ve founded and supported missions, who have become teachers through Teach with America, who have provided jobs through business ventures, who serve the homeless, the downtrodden and the often-forgotten.

America’s Veterans have given us the safety to pursue positive change, and they have given us a shining example of dedication and conviction. It is in the long and lasting shadow of their military service that each of us has the opportunity to Be the Change.

Madison’s heart

James Irwin (’06), James Madison University’s assistant director of Alumni Relations, writes today’s blog post, catching us up on some far flung alumni and what they are doing to Be the Change…..

Madison’s heart

by James Irwin (’06)

309937_10150698531284213_1855989507_nCitizenship is at the heart of the Madison Experience, and at the JMU Alumni Association, chapters across the United States have been rolling up their sleeves to help others.

Attendees at Harrisonburg and Washington D.C. holiday social events — held in mid-December — donated more than 125 toys to children in need through the Toys for Tots program

“The holidays inspire a sense of giving and community service,” said Beth Pope (’07), community service committee chair for the MetroDukes Chapter in Washington D.C. “We thought a toy drive was a great way for JMU alumni to have a quick and easy, but also tremendous impact on their community.”

Pope and her fellow alumni teamed with U.S. Marine Corps Major Scott Clendaniel (’01) on the toy drive — part of an annual holiday social held at BlackFinn Saloon in Washington. The group wound up donating more than 75 toys to needy families. The Harrisonburg event, hosted by the Harrisonburg chapter and held on campus at JMU’s alumni center, brought in another 50.

“Life can become a little hectic after JMU, with alumni balancing full-time jobs and growing families,” Pope said. “But the sense of community and willingness to give back is always present.”

Other regional volunteer opportunities coming up include an elementary school cleanup event in Philadelphia on Jan. 21, and the Big Event, JMU’s day of community service, scheduled for April 13. Launched in 2011, The Big Event brings members of the Madison community (both on campus and throughout the United States) together for a day of volunteerism. The 2012 event included more than 1,000 student and alumni volunteers in 13 municipal areas across the country. (Check out the video below about The Big Event that Kelsey Mohring (’12), Makenzie Walter and David Jordan (’13) put together.)

“Last year, we had a host of volunteer opportunities,” said Amanda Leech (’09), chapter coordinator in JMU’s Office of Alumni Relations. “We had cleanup events at parks, schools and community centers. We volunteered at food banks and animal shelters and with Habitat for Humanity. This year we’ll be looking to expand into more markets, and provide more service opportunities, like blood drives and veterans assistance programs.”

The alumni office is hopeful The Big Event, fueled by JMU’s culture of service, can expand to 20 markets in 2013.

“At every community service event, alumni always reiterate how meaningful the event has been for them,” Pope said. “Whether it’s donating their time to clean up a park, or donating a physical item like toys, JMU alumni want to give back to their community.”

With a little help from friends

oumar_profileOumar Sacko (’14), an international student from Mali, in West Africa, writes today’s blog post — a task he’s familiar with. In addition to studying biology as a pre-med student, he is a regular blogger on for JMU’s International Students blog. Through his insightful and interesting posts, one gets a real taste of what it’s like to land here in America from abroad.

He writes for us today about leaping the communication bounds and what that means for positive change for Oumar — and for his friends.

What if?

by Oumar Sacko

It all started when I first thought: What if one day I become a doctor? Then my thoughts went a step further to “I want to be a doctor.” Since then I knew that I had to work really hard to achieve that dream. But working hard wasn’t the problem; I was used to that already. The problem was the communication barrier. When I came to JMU I couldn’t even order food at the restaurant without the help of my friends. But being in the study group made my integration a lot easier. The group welcomed me with open arms and guided me along my freshman year.

Since day one at JMU, I had the chance to meet wonderful people with whom I am still in touch. They learn from me and my culture the same way I learn from them and the American culture. I was told by my American friends that I am always happy, that I have an interesting background and that I was mature for an 18-year-old-man. Having been to more than 10 countries and being fluent in four languages permitted me to know a little bit about many cultures — from the most rural places to the most urban/developed places such as the U.S. I had to adapt to the American way of doing things, but I still hold on to my beliefs and principles. That is why in order to bring a little diversity, later on in the future if everything turns out the way I planned, I will put together the knowledge of modern medicine from America and the traditional medicine in West Africa.

Oumar and friends in the Shenandoah National Park

Oumar and friends in the Shenandoah National Park

In JMU, people are really nice and welcome international students pretty well. Just by exchanging couple words with them, they would detect my accent and ask me where I am from and want to know more about me. By giving them an image of the Africa they didn’t have, some of my friends want to visit there. And this feeling of fitting in the University is what makes us realize that as international students we are not only here as simple individual students but we also represent our countries or continents, so it is important to give a positive image of where we come from.

Being in the USA and at JMU did not only change me as a person, it also enabled me to have a more global vision of the world, of people’s ways of thinking and affected my way of thinking and my decision making. In JMU I learned to be more independent. I’ve met some people who work to pay their university tuition; and that of course impacted me and brought me to think that education is important and that everybody is on his or her own. In Africa we believe that people help one another to achieve success, but now I think that nobody else except ourselves would fight our fights for success. That’s why it’s important to realize how important school is and give all we have to realize our dreams.

In JMU I also learned that time is precious and as they say “time is non recyclable.” And of course it all starts with the thought of “what if?” before going a step further to desire and finally accomplish.

You can learn more from Jim Heffernan’s story about this exceptional student. And find out more about JMU’s International Student CenterClick the embedded links.

A year of living bravely

A month or so ago, we featured a story about JMU senior Morgan Robinson. Here’s another installment of her Study Abroad experience; this one in her own words……

Lessons Learned from a Year Abroad

by Morgan Robinson (’13)

„Zwei Dinge sollen Kinder von ihren Eltern bekommen: Wurzeln und Flügel.“ ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

 “There are two things Children should get from their parents: Roots and Wings” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Neuschwanstein Castle outside of Munich

Neuschwanstein Castle outside of Munich

After spending a year abroad I can truly attest to the above statement – and my parents have done a great job applying it. A year abroad will no doubt change a person. Spread your wings to embrace the endless opportunities presented and as you learn to live in a foreign city and recognize your roots at home.

Morgan pic3I spent just shy of a full year living in Munich, Germany. I say living rather than studying because a study abroad experience is so much more than actual studying; it’s living like you’ve never lived before. Living abroad will absolutely leave you asking yourself ‘is this real life?’ on so many occasions. Hopping on planes to some exotic location for weekend trips, taking advantage of the incredibly rich culture — $10 world-class operas, yes please! — and connecting with people from all over the world never gets old. But it’s not all glam. As Americans we are used to a pretty cushy lifestyle; foreign bureaucracy can be quite stressful and the culture shock and at least a bit of homesickness is bound to happen. You are pretty much independent — you pay your own bills, make your own plans, deal with consequences all on your own; you learn a whole lot about yourself and learn some serious real-world-relevant lessons.

Morgan in the city of Bergen, Norway

Morgan in the city of Bergen, Norway

I went to Germany through the Junior Year in Munich Program and the DAAD scholarship. I lived in student apartments in the city and studied German, French and Norwegian at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität. I quickly fell in love with Munich and all of Bavaria. I experienced the organized chaos that is Oktoberfest, loved every minutes of the Christmas Markets (I don’t know what I’ll do without Glühwein!), and the majestic castles and landscape of the region never ceased to amaze me. I love the language and found the Bavarian dialect oddly charming. My schedule allowed for a great deal of traveling; I made it to 11 countries over the year and became quite a savvy traveler! I learned from experience the right and wrong ways to pack a suitcase, how to book tickets and that it is a good idea to always bring a Lonely Planet book to get the most out of a trip. I had an incredible year. It far exceeded any expectations.

In my experience, it was the year in Munich that really taught me the incredible value of home. I went to Europe with the mindset that I could possibly live there full-time. The inner-Euro girl in me came out big time and I found myself wondering if I’d like to live in the cities I visited, more often than not that answer was yes. After that initial excitement of the first months in Europe faded I began to realize that expat status would be really difficult. I am not necessarily a home-body but no way I could ever get used to the idea of starting a family 3000 miles away from my home in Virginia, and of course I’d miss living in the good ole U.S. of A! Being away for so long made me realize all I had to appreciate at home and how important family is to me. I think this was probably the most valuable lesson I learned.

Hofgarten, Theatine Church (in the background) in Munich

Hofgarten, Theatine Church (in the background) in Munich

I absolutely advise spending time abroad. I think, ideally, everyone that can should spend at least a year abroad. It arms you with experience that gives you a real can-do attitude, challenging you to follow your dreams and get the most out of life. I was a little worried about what I might miss at home over the year, but the things I got to do and the priceless life-lessons I learned made it so worth it.

I am a senior this year and will be graduating in May with a degree in Modern Foreign Languages (German and French). I had originally planned on graduate school for literature and eventually pursuing a career in academia, but I changed plans and will be going back to Europe. This time I plan to go to Paris, to attend Le Cordon Bleu to study both culinary and pastry arts for about a year. This is a very exciting move; I am definitely looking forward to spending more time in Europe and following my dreams at culinary school.

You can follow the culinary adventures of Morgan Robinson on her blog and read more about her Study Abroad experience. Just click the embedded links. (Photos provided by Morgan Robinson.)

The other 364 days

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Sunday much of the news centered around Veterans Day as we remembered and celebrated those men and women who serve us. It is their day to stand and be recognized, and our day to acknowledge their many sacrifices.

I think it’s a bit of a shame — not that we have a Veterans’ Day — not at all. It is a shame that we don’t honor them every day, because we enjoy the benefits of their service every day. After all, they remember us every day as they grapple with the repercussions of their experiences on our behalf. The truth is: No American Veteran who serves our nation returns home to a life unchanged.

Veterans who sustain physical injuries must confront new challenges. For those who lost arms or legs or sight, we have a visible reminder of their sacrifice. Others, however, struggle with the fallout from their service privately and often silently — battling post traumatic stress disorder or depression. All returning Veterans must rebuild their lives, reinvigorate their livelihoods and re-establish their family units after an absence of months or years.

According to a report by the Associated Press published by CBS news* in August, suicides among returning Veterans have increased sharply. It is a worrisome trend.

While we go merrily on our way for 364 days enjoying the fruits of their labors, we devote one day to honor them. I’m not proposing extra or extended Veterans Day celebrations, but I am suggesting that we be more attentive during the rest of the year.

It is easy to assume that Veterans organizations are there for them, but what about us — their friends and acquaintances? What is our duty to them? To wave flags? To hold parades? To reach out in friendship and support?

All of the above, I think — especially reaching out in friendship. Perhaps it is our duty to them.

Every morning in the obituaries of Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record, we read that another Veteran has left us, especially Veterans of earlier wars. On Friday, it was one of our own; Dr. Crystal Theodore, longtime professor of art, had served her country as vigorously as she served her students.

I’m always struck by those little American flags the DN-R wraps with the words of an Veteran’s obituary. I often wonder how their bearers fared returning to civilian life or what challenges they had to overcome. And I wonder if they knew how thankful we all are. Institutional thanks, a day in their honor, is nice, but I always hope someone thanked them face to face.

There are many Veterans among us in the Madison community, like Justin Constantine, alumnus and Iraq war veteran; David Parker, professor of law in the College of Business and Irag War veteran; Dr. Z. S. “Dick” Dickerson, faculty emeritus and World War II veteran; David Chase, staff member in the Office of Institutional Research and career marine; and student Rick Brightwell (’13). Rick deployed with the Marine Corps to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in Nov. 2010 and served there until July 2011. He returned to JMU in August 2011 and will graduate in May from the College of Business.

Dr. Theodore, Justin, David, Dr. “D”, David and Rick are some of many — Reservists, National Guard members, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. Men and women who have served in our stead.

All of us relish changing lives in big and exciting ways — helping orphans, assisting storm victims, rescuing those caught in war or perpetual homelessness. We are inspired by people, like many of our Be the Changers, who help change their lives, but what about us?

Sometimes the greatest change can be wrought by the simplest kindness. Once a Veteran has served us, it becomes our duty to serve him or her. Danny Mallory (’08) and the Richmond Alumni Chapter practice that during regular visits to their local Veterans hospital, which treats those recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

If nothing more, it is our duty to honor them with kindness for 365 days of the year — to thank them, support them, befriend them.

As of today, there are 364 days until Veterans Day 2013 — 364 days to make a difference in an American Veteran’s life.

JMU’s counseling center offers returning Veterans a host of services: http://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/Resources/veterans.html
* http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57494963/u.s-military-suicide-rate-doubles-for-july/

The Class of 2012, part 5

Kent Graham and Scott Dyer

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

“I feel like I have always received the support …”

Scott Dyer of Baltimore, Md., has a huge heart. During his four years at JMU, he’s worked with local Hispanic students as a leader for Young Life, providing friendship and mentoring. It’s not a passing fancy for the brand new Phi Beta Kappa inductee and Spanish major who also will earn minors in secondary education and teaching English as a second language. “My plans after graduation are to send out applications to teach English to adults and to run an after school program in Harrisonburg,” he writes. “Then I plan on applying for graduate school in order to get my master’s in teaching for Spanish and ESL. I also hope to be involved in community development in a big city within a Latino population.”

Scott, who has also worked at a local restaurant throughout college, writes: “JMU has helped me grow into a person who is comfortable starting a conversation with any type of person. This university has always encouraged learning through relationships: faculty to student, and student to student. I have developed a lot of confidence in the person I was made to be, and I feel like I have always received the support of faculty and staff and peers.”

“The best part of graduating is having the opportunity to enter with confidence into my next stage of life. The worst part is no longer being able to be consistently around the same community of people who have loved me so well over the last four years.”

And finally, one student who hasn’t been mentioned by name…

…. but who has been quoted and consulted. Kent Graham, my youngest son and third Duke, will graduate Saturday as part of the first engineering class. More than four years ago, as he was deciding which college to attend, Kent wrestled with his choices. Accepted into all the schools he applied to, he was captivated by the freedom and the excitement of learning at JMU. Here he could find out what he really wanted to do, rather than be forced into one discipline only to discover it was not what he wanted. In the end JMU won, and so did Kent. Recently, I asked him if his was a good decision so many years ago. “Oh, yes,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in engineering, he’ll head to industry as an assistant project manager for a large mechanical contractor to begin his pursuit of a professional engineering license.

For Kent, like Scott, much of the Madison Experience has focused around work and friendships developed through Young Life. He’s spent four years driving back and forth to a local high school, mentoring students. And then, there’s the Toolbox, where he, Scott Dyer and more than a dozen other students have shared their JMU years. The Toolbox is one of the many named houses in Harrisonburg where students live. It is  a dilapidated old house with little heat, a sofa-laden front porch, an eclectic hodgepodge of furniture exceeded only by the variety of wall colors — and a home where lifelong friendships are forged.

I have long told my children that the best friends they’ll ever have, they’ll likely find in college. As you’ve read the thoughts of students this week, that sentiment is affirmed. It is in the relationships that we live and those relationships merged for greater purposes that will change the world.

The college experience should never be exclusively about academic pursuits, prestige or bragging rights. It should be about becoming the best one can become, of finding that place in the world  to make a difference, and of discovering a life pursuit that will challenge, interest and inspire for decades to come. Few universities, including my alma mater, accomplish that better than JMU. It is the right size, the right disposition, the right balance. These 10 students prove that, and as they move out into the “real” world, they’ll carry with them the best of JMU.

Congratulations and many thanks to Abby Burkhardt, Josh Smead, Ben Schulze, Scott Dovel, Matt Burton, Peter Epley, Dave Stevens, Jessie Taylor, Scott Dyer, Kent Graham and to the entire James Madison University Class of 2012.

We can’t wait to hear about all the thousands of ways you will change the world.


The Class of 2012, part 2

Ben Schulze

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

“I have been shaped…..”

Ben Schulze of Catharpin, Va., is an integrated science and technology major and part of a team of ISAT students who traveled to Costa Rica to conduct an extensive energy assessment at Punta Leona resort. He will graduate Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in integrated science and technology and a minor in computer science. Following graduation, Ben hopes to continue his education.

He writes: “JMU has deeply changed my life.  I have been shaped into an open-minded, confident and resilient individual by all of the experiences I have had and the people I have met a JMU.  JMU has presented me with many challenges and many opportunities, and I have used both to my advantage to develop into a strong individual. The best part about graduating is the opportunity to seek new adventures and start the journey of my career. I love to learn, so the worst part about leaving JMU is that I will not be able to have any more classes.”

Scott Dovel

“JMU has awakened me…..”

Scott Dovel of Keezletown, Va., began his JMU career under difficult circumstances that required a brand of strength and determination that few of us are ever called on to muster. But he persevered and looks forward to graduation.

Scott writes: “JMU has awakened me from my small town roots into seeing a greater potential for myself that I would have never conceived otherwise had I not gone to college. Choosing to go to college four years, instead of transferring from a community college, allowed me to experience more. I met a lot of people from different areas in the United States and world with different beliefs and opinions. I gained priceless knowledge throughout college that has helped me begin to shape myself. I am beginning to understand that I know nothing about anything, but I am always learning.”

After graduation Scott says he won’t miss tests. He adds, “I also think getting paid to work rather than paying to do work is great. The worst part of graduating is leaving knowing that there is still so much that I would like to learn.”

Scott will graduate with a degree in kinesiology with a concentration in sport and recreation management and a minor in business. He plans to pursue his interest in recreation management at the Outdoor Learning Center at Horizons, Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center, Camp Horizons, and by supporting Job Corp Adventure Programs, a U.S. Department of Labor program, through Horizons Youth Services

On deck tomorrow…..Matt Burton and Peter Epley

(Photos provided by Ben and Scott)
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