Over 80 people gathered inside the Michigan Union Rogel Ballroom Friday night to listen to Matt Gallagher, former U.S. Army Captain and critically acclaimed author, recount his experiences in the Iraq War as a part of the 8th Annual Student Veterans of America at the University of Michigan Benefit Dinner.
Student Veterans of America is a non-profit organization on campus aiding veterans with resources they need at higher education institutions, as well as after graduation. The group has chapters at almost 1,500 schools across the country, and has supported more than 500,000 student veterans.
During the event, Gallagher read passages from his novel, “Youngblood,” as well as personal essays detailing his youth and experiences during the war. He spoke of the importance of continuing to tell stories, and how they can shape the future of the United States.
“Whether you’re an aspiring writer or going into business or going to be a dentist, we’re all storytellers,” Gallagher said. “It’s a way of giving back to our families, to our communities, to American society at large, to help understand the past and maybe, to help shape the future for the better.”
Gallagher commented numerous times on the strong national reputation of the Student Veterans of America chapter at the University.
Business senior Jonathan Chen, President of the SVAUM, said after serving nearly four years in the Marine Corps, he felt very welcomed by the Student Veterans of America. Chen described the hardships veterans face when they enter into a university setting, and explained how the group works to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“We say there’s really three big things: the professional, the social and the academic,” Chen said. “If you really think about it, somebody coming into college, like the normal way, you have an 18-year-old, it’s kinda hard — hard to adjust, hard to find weird places, all that kind of stuff. When you put all that, class itself is hard, but then being a veteran and coming out of four to eight to 12 to 20 years in the military, some with multiple combat deployments, some with kids, some with husbands or wives, then putting school on top of that — it’s extremely hard. I feel lucky because I don’t have all of that going on, but there are people like that, so we’re here to help them with their transition.”
Members of different Student Veterans of America chapters across the state attended the dinner. Central Michigan University student Nick Badgero said he is the manager for the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education of the Student Veterans Association at the Central Michigan chapter. Badgero described the work he does as a mentor, as well as the importance of ensuring that veterans do not slip through the cracks when they enter a new university.
“How it works is we take a brand-new veteran who just got out of the military, brand new, they are labeled as essentially peers — this is voluntary, they don’t have to do this,” Badgero said. “When they come to the school, if they want, a more experienced veteran helps them through. They pair up, the experienced veteran takes them under their wing, that figurative arm around them, and makes sure they don’t slip through the cracks.”
Gallagher also praised the passion of men and women like Chen and Badgero, and urged the audience to use this passion to obtain powerful careers. At the conclusion of his talk, he left his audience with advice on how to go into the future with the same kind of passion that caused them to pursue being in the military, and to hold tight to their dreams.
“So what does any of that have to do with you, Student Veterans of Michigan?” Gallagher asked. “I’ll return to that quote by Walter Lippmann: ‘Men and women respond as powerfully to fictions as they do to realities. In many cases, they help to create the very fictions to which they respond.’ Chances are that part of the inspiration that led you to the military and to this very fine academic institution came from a story. That’s OK. That’s more than OK. That’s human … wherever that spark is within you, wherever it came from, hold onto it. Treasure it. Protect it.”