On May 20, the day before its University-wide commencement ceremony, Fordham celebrated its student-veteran graduates—as well as the network of Fordham student vets that has caught national attention for how it supports students making the transition from the military to University life.
“Fordham is a very special place, and the student veterans here at Fordham are a really special group,” said guest speaker Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America, or SVA. At the group’s national conferences, which draw more than 3,000 student veterans from around the country, “people ask questions about what goes on here,” he said. “They want to learn how they can replicate that at their universities.”
He spoke at the Yellow Ribbon Medallion and Bell Ringing Ceremony held by the University’s Office of Military and Veterans’ Services, or OMVS, in Keating Hall at the Rose Hill campus. At the ceremony, 23 of this year’s student veterans and military-connected students—and also Lyon, a student veteran himself—received a University medallion honoring their service. Afterward, for part two of the recognition ceremony, everyone visited the nearby Victory Bell and stepped up to it, one by one, to give it a ring, cheered on by their fellow student vets.
It was only the second time the ceremony had taken place in this format. Inaugurated in 2019, it was modified for the past two years due to the University’s pandemic-related measures. Matt Butler, the University’s director of military and veterans’ services, began this year’s ceremony by calling for a moment of silence to remember the graduates’ friends and family members lost to the pandemic.
“Graduates, you should be proud,” Butler said in his own remarks. “You have endured many, many challenges, and overcome them all, from dealing with the demands of work, school, family, and other obligations [to]classes converted to online and virtual. You have Zoomed, Zoomed, and Zoomed some more. But you never let any obstacles stop you.”
He noted that the graduates were a diverse crowd that included 88-year-old John Lenehan, a Korean War veteran who began his studies at Fordham’s former downtown division at 302 Broadway in the 1950s and returned to the University last year to complete his degree. Last fall, Lenehan became the inaugural recipient of the OMVS’s new True Grit award, inspired by his story, that will go to student veterans who overcome significant challenges in earning their degrees, he said.
A Leading Chapter
Butler also lauded other leaders in Fordham’s SVA chapter, saying “they run one of the top SVA chapters in the country.” As examples, he noted student veterans’ volunteer efforts to help the victims of the deadly fire in the Tremont section of the Bronx in January; their collections to support Ukraine relief efforts; and their mentoring of prospective student veterans, among other efforts.
Student veterans are at the heart of the University’s “coordinated, full-community approach” to meeting the unique needs of student veterans, he said.
Student veterans at the ceremony represented several Fordham colleges and schools. The largest group was graduating from the School of Professional and Continuing Studies; others were graduating from the Gabelli School of Business, the Graduate School of Social Service, the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, Fordham Law School, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Lyon, in his address, said “thank you for your leadership, your willingness to volunteer on behalf of others.” He pointed to research showing veterans’ high college GPAs and high rates of college completion, and said “you are well equipped with your educations to go on and be the change we’d like to see in the world.”
“Your country needs you. The world is ready for you,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.”