On Monday, Nov. 11, the Office of Veteran Student Services, Student Government and the Kean Veterans Educational Transition Services Program (Kean V.E.T.S.) held a special event to honor Veterans Day and all of Kean student veterans in the community and around the world.
Director of Kean V.E.T.S. Vito E. Zajda opened the event and served as a master of ceremonies, of sorts, to keep the flow of the event. He welcomed all in attendance and spoke on the significance of the veteran community on campus.
The event included special performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" by the Kean Gospel Choir, as well as an invocation by the Catholic Campus Minister Mariama Roldan.
Kean was recently ranked number one in the nation by Military Friendly's 2019-2020 Top 10 Schools survey. This rank is attributed to all of the hard work and dedication of the Office of Veteran Student Services.
With the help of Student Government, nearly $20,000 was raised in funds to help support Rebuilding Warriors. Rebuilding Warriors is a non-profit organization that provides veterans with trained service dogs to assist them with the transition to and hardships of civilian life.
As a part of the Veterans Day Ceremony, Jason Pryor was the recipient of a service dog to help him cope with severe anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The service dog, Keen, will serve as a tool for Pryor to cope with different stressors in his day-to-day life.
"People see people with service dogs, they see us walking and talking. They look as us and wonder, 'Why do they need a service dog?' What you can't see is that PTSD is invisible, it stays with you your entire life and it is not easy," said Jeff Mullins, vice-president for Rebuilding Warriors. "Its our goal to provide veterans and first responders with service dogs to help them achieve what their new 'normal' is. Jason has his new best friend, Keen."
Mullins urges members of the Kean community to be aware that all the service dogs seen on campus are doing a job. If owners of those service dogs do not allow community members to pet their dog, that is their right because the dogs are their tools for life and staying alive. The dogs are invisible until the owners decide they are not invisible.
President of Student Organization Francois Zebaze spoke on the efforts to raise money from Student Government to help train Pryor's new service dog, Keen. He also read aloud a poem that honors veterans on the day of remembering those who serve for our country.
Following the presentation of the service dog to Pryor, Kean V.E.T.S. presented an award to Juan Leon-Torres for his exceptional work as a veteran mentor. Torres said a few words, after receiving the honor, about how he fell into the role of becoming a mentor, and began to make changes within the Veteran Student Services office to help make Kean a great place for student veterans.
The ceremony closed with the retiring of colors and the placing of a wreath next to the flag pole in the university center. What can be taken from this day of honor is that, while Veterans Day is one day out of the year, we should always be grateful and respectful of those who fight for the country to remain safe and secure.