The room was decorated with red, white and blue balloons and flowers for the occasion. Chairs and wall decor followed the same color scheme and pictures depicting symbols of American pride were hung upon the walls.
There were around 50 people filling the space of room 121 in Willis Hall. This space has recently been transformed into the Veteran's Resource Center.
Following the Veterans Day Ceremony on Friday, November 11, 2016, outside by the clock tower, guests were invited to attend the Grand Opening and Dedication of the new Kean University Veteran's Resource Center.
Kean University alumna and service member Clara Garcia held the ribbon that was spread across the doorway into the lounge, as Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Sophia Howlett cut the ribbon.
After pictures were taken, all attendees and hosts of the Grand Opening entered the lounge and stood around a podium. Behind the podium on the wall was a Dalai Lama XIV quote about peace, which is very fitting given what the space is meant to represent.
Recent graduate from Kean University and Academic Specialist of the Veteran's Resource Center, Daniel Colangelo welcomed the guests.
He provided insight from his experiences of returning to society after serving in Saudi Arabia and surviving the Khobar Tower attacks. There, he left with more than his life, he left with an experience that showed just how powerful it can be when people work together.
"The one thing I took away from that wasn't the horror or the heartache, it was the heroism that I've seen and how people, individuals that don't even know each other, can rise up and make wonderful things happen," Colangelo said.
His transition back to society was difficult for him, as it was also difficult for his family members. He described the transition back to academia as "culture shock."
For veterans like Colangelo, this is what the Veteran's Resource Center is for: to be a place where those who have served can come together and find peace in a comfortable environment with those who understand their experiences.
"So basically, to us what this lounge is it's not four walls, it's not a computer, it's not a TV, this is a place where you can go when you're feeling uncomfortable or you're feeling that nobody else can relate to you and what you've been through and what challenges you're facing here at Kean University," Colangelo said.
The Veteran's Resource Center is an oasis where individuals can share their stories, heartaches and fears without being judged.
Colangelo ended his welcoming speech with a thank you to the university and those who helped make this space possible. He also thanked the guests for celebrating with them.
Next, the executive board of the Military and Veterans Club was introduced and President Kimmarah Casey spoke. She emphasized how the Veteran's Resource Center may not seem like much, but to those who serve and those who have served, it symbolizes unity.
Jackie Oesmann-Kruk, from the Campus Catholic Ministry, made a dedication to the center. Kean University student and member of the U.S. Air Force, Darin Smith provided entertainment with the singing of a song. This was followed by closing remarks from Howlett.
She explained how the idea came from the members of the Military and Veterans Club and they worked their way from the bottom to the top to make it all happen.
"Veterans affairs is more than just getting the right forms signed, it's about learning to acclimate from being in the service to an educational environment," Howlett said.
Student Affairs Vice President Janice Murray-Laury was thanked for being a big help in moving the process forward. Colangelo was also recognized for his hard work within the three weeks preceding the Grand Opening of the center and making the opening a success.
Overall, the Veteran's Resource Center is a comfortable, more reflective space for veterans. This is a holistic environment in regards to respect and making the adjustment from serving to education with people who understand their circumstances.
Murray-Laury stepped up to recognize Garcia, who emphasized how service members are one and need to make this space a stronger resource for all veterans and those involved with military affairs to utilize, learn and grow from.
Following the Grand Opening Ceremony, there was food available for attendees in the room next door. This room will be utilized for future conferences and workshops regarding veteran affairs and resources.