Graduating student veterans and their friends and families gathered to celebrate two important milestones for veterans on UNC Asheville’s campus: the Commencement Ceremony during which eight student veterans graduated, and the opening of the new Veteran Center for Excellence in Highsmith Union.
“Your graduation from UNC Asheville is undoubtedly just one of many accomplishments made possible through your own work ethic, determination and ability to complete what you started,” said Stephanie Franklin, director of transition and parent programs, at the graduation celebration ceremony. “I’m honored to have the opportunity this evening in joining others in this room to take time to acknowledge and celebrate this important accomplishment.”
After the friends and family members of each graduating veteran spoke on behalf of the graduates and gave them the red, white and blue cords to wear at Commencement, the crowd moved over to the Veteran Center to cut the ribbon and tour the new space.
The Veteran Center for Excellence will serve as a place for UNC Asheville’s student veterans to study and relax, and as the meeting place for members of the Veterans Alliance student organization. The space will also house a library and repository for resources for student veterans, facilitate collaborations between the Veterans Alliance and other student organizations, and be a designated space for Green Zone trainings, which helps participants develop an understanding for the challenges faced by student veterans.
“Being able to have a quiet space that is still part of the student union action, designed specifically for veterans, is important,” said UNC Asheville alumna Tammy Walsh, who served as the student supervisor for veterans’ programs at UNC Asheville and wrote the Vet Center Initiative grant application. “I hope the center is a jumping-off point for bigger and better things for our student veterans on campus.”
Walsh, Chris Nettles and Robert Denny, incoming president of the Veterans Alliance student organization, cut the ribbon on the Veteran Center together, officially opening the center for the community.
“Always remember you are not alone,” Denny said to his fellow student veterans. “You have brothers and sisters to the left and right of you.”
SVA and The Home Depot Foundation launched the Vet Center Initiative in 2014 as part of SVA’s mission to provide veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation.
“We saw an opportunity to engage more of the veterans on campus, and do a little giving back and leave something behind,” said Chris Nettles, U.S. Army veteran and president of the Veterans Alliance at UNC Asheville for 2016 and spring 2017.
“People go to work, and they go home, and research shows that everyone needs a third space that they can go to. For a lot of vets, there’s not an opportunity to have a third space. Especially when they are full-time students and busy with family; some of them have kids and another job. That was a big reason for us building the space as we did.”
The space features comfortable furniture, with photographs and artwork displayed on freshly painted walls creating a homey feeling; a meeting space with a large conference table; a resource library and a kitchenette.
For more information about UNC Asheville programs and services for student military service members and veterans, visit transition.unca.edu/veterans-programs-and-services.
To see WLOS News 13's story on the Veteran Center opening, visit the WLOS website.