A forum for student veterans and civilians was held on Friday, April 15 at the Intersections International Office in Manhattan.
Thirty-three year old student veteran, Patrick Donahue, spoke at the event. Donahue is a United States Army veteran and described the struggles he faced in college.
“I had my ups and downs just like everyone in life. Back in high school, I graduated with a 67 average. I was a class clown and was put in Special Education. My mother had to stay with me in class so I would not act up. I started going to college in 1999 and my GPA was a 1.1. I dropped out numerous times, was introduced to marijuana, and joined the military,” Donahue said.
Donahue stated that he was taking medication for post-traumatic stress in order for him to go to class. While in school, he started a fraternity and received an Associate’s degree last year, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree and plans to go to law school.
“These days, everything is so different with going back to school and seeing these kids who are much younger than me always complaining in class. At the time, I wanted to re-integrate with the civilians and I really made sure that I turned it around. I was no longer ‘crazy’ Donahue with the PTSD,” Donahue said.
Dukens Chery, 34, also spoke at the event. Chery joined the Army in 2002 and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Right now, I am graduating from Nassau Community College and I am getting my Associates degree. I applied to many colleges and I got accepted to Hunter but I am planning on transferring to NYU to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. I want to go to law school and become a lawyer,” Chery said.
Emma Cardner, who works for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, explained the significance of the Military Resilience Project, a program that aims to ease the transition of veterans back into society.
“The Military Resilience Project builds a bridge between students and veterans. Veterans who go to campus can expect to socialize with others who have served,” Cardner said.
Event attendees were shown a number of videos portraying veterans being stereotyped by civilians.
They were then asked to form four groups and to re-enact a scene where a veteran is being stereotyped by the general public, an exercise that forced attendees to sympathize with the formation of such stereotypes.
The event concluded with veterans and civilians sharing their thoughts on how the two groups can co-exist with one another.
“I’m so much more than a veteran. There is so much more to me than that. I believe that if people can accept similarities more than differences then it can really make a difference in perception,” Donahue said.
Barbara Thompson is a veteran spokesperson and former CUNY professor. She has helped three hundred veterans transition to civilian life. She explained the importance of veterans taking the necessary steps to transition back into society after leaving the service.
“It is important that we educate veterans to be civilians again. It is what I always told my students who are veterans. Participate in sports or any social activity that can remind them what life was like before joining military life,” Thompson said.