Reflecting on the Journey Award she had just received minutes earlier during the 11th Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony Wednesday (Aug. 1), MTSU student veteran Jackie Evans paused briefly.
“It makes me realize I was making a difference in the (Charlie and Hazel Daniels) Veterans Center,” the Florence, South Carolina, native said. “I worked there two years while I was getting my degree. I worked hard to serve others. It’s nice to be recognized.”
David Corlew, who has worked with country music legend Charlie Daniels for 46 years and is a founding board member with The Journey Home Project, gave the Journey Award to Evans, who was accompanied by her husband, Roderick, a Marine recruiter in Brentwood, Tennessee.
It is awarded to a student veteran that has overcome significant adversity and transitioned into an unsung hero for student veterans and the Daniels Center.
During the ceremony held in the Miller Education Center’s second-floor atrium on Bell Street, the university recognized student veterans for not only their service to their country, but for finishing their dream of obtaining a college degree.
Nine graduating veterans received their red stoles, which they can wear during the upcoming commencement ceremony Saturday, Aug. 11, in Murphy Center. Twenty-seven student veterans will graduate that morning.
Evans was active duty from 2011-15 in the U.S. Marine Corps as an aviation maintenance data specialist, reaching the rank of sergeant with one tour in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. She majored in leisure and sport management, will graduate with a 4.0 GPA and plans to pursue her master’s in that concentration and continue working in the veterans center.
“For MTSU to be so invested — with the center and services (offered), it means a lot,” Evans added. “It helps with the transitioning process.”
Deb Sells, vice president of Student Affairs and vice provost for Enrollment and Academic Services, presented the Veteran Leadership Award given to the student veteran that has demonstrated superior leadership, academic achievement and selfless service to MTSU and the community.
Recipient Brooke Snell was unable to attend because of a Marine commitment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Snell served 10 years (2004-14) in the Marines as an electrician and ground safety specialist. She deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and achieved the rank of sergeant. She will have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in leisure sport and tourism studies. At MTSU, she helped mentor student-athletes.
Aerospace professional pilot major Colton Gray, 27, of Port Charlotte, Florida, said he “came here for school” after his U.S. Army stint. “I didn’t know anyone in Tennessee.” But he knew about the program.
“The reputation this school has exceeded my expectations,” he said. As for the veterans center, “It’s incredible. A lot of schools say they support veterans. Dr. (Hilary) Miller (center director) will work day or night to take care of you and that means a lot.”
Gray will go to work for Republic Airlines, which works with Delta, American and United, following graduation.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told the student veterans “the stoles that you receive today symbolize the high regard that we hold for the noble decision that you made to serve this country so the rest of us can live our lives freely.”
“In presenting these stoles,” he added, “we say thank you for your service and for choosing MTSU as the next stop on your career path. You represent the epitome of Red, White and True Blue. I look forward to seeing you in your stole at commencement and awarding your diploma.”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, told the audience “the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans Center is a national treasure. We get calls from all around the world. We want to assist in your transition (from military to student and from graduated student to employed in the workforce). We’re here to serve.”
Representatives from Waffle House, Mission BBQ and other businesses also attended to potentially meet prospective job-seekers.
Suzanne Jene, deputy health system director for the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, and Jennifer Vedral-Baron, director of the Tennessee Valley Health Care System, were among those in attendance. Huber also introduced Jill Shaver, a local quilter who is part of the Quilts of Valor organization making quilts for veterans.
For more on the veterans center, call 615-904-8347 or visit http://www.mtsu.edu/military/index.php online.
MTSU has more than 300 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)