In the Nation’s Service: A New Generation of Veterans on Campus

Produced by Erica Dugué, Kayla Memis, and Alice Maiden

This January, five U.S. veterans mark the end of their first-year fall semester, making the Class of 2021 the first class with multiple U.S. veterans in the 21st century. In Fall 2018, the University will re-initialize their transfer program, accepting students who have previously been enrolled in higher education including, hopefully, veterans. Princeton has long been behind the other Ivies in welcoming veterans, but has been trying to diversify the student body by bringing in students from different backgrounds of education and service. 1080princeton profiled Christopher Wilson, Tyler Eddy (Teddy), and Brendan O’Hara, three first-years who previously served in the U.S. military.

Christopher

For Christopher Wilson, move in day as a freshman wasn’t all about roommates and residential colleges. For him and his husband Raymond, the biggest question on their minds was how they could transition from living at Camp Pendleton, California and deployment in the Middle East with a military salary,  to being two students with no salary in an area like Princeton. Evidently, their two cats became their saving grace.

Raymond said a lot of other schools accepted veterans with a “we’ll take you, but we don’t really know what we can provide for you yet” attitude, but Princeton was different. From day one, the school provided them with a Lakeside apartment that could accommodate their family of four–Raymond, Chris, and their two cats.

They said more schools are really fighting for veterans. “A lot of veterans will be able to shop for what they really want,” Chris explained. “‘Cause what a lot of military members don’t do is they don’t reach as high as they can. They just kinda settle. They never give themselves the chance to apply to really good schools like this.”

Chris has had support from many sides on his journey to becoming a student at “a school like this,” whether it’s through summer prep courses, the crew team-whose sense of brotherhood reminds him of the military, or even through tutoring and office hours. It was hard at first to get over his own pride and ask for help, something Chris said was even more difficult after his time in the military. But once he did, it all paid off. He’s now exploring everything from Mathematics to Arts & Archeology, and said  you can’t avoid liking every class. Amidst all Chris’s rowing practices and hours upon hours of homework, the couple still finds time to enjoy Princeton’s “work hard, play hard” atmosphere, whether on the Street or at the graduate student bar.

“[It’s] good because we get the best of both worlds,” Chris said. “If we wanted to relax in an older setting, we could go to one of the graduate bars or events, and just talk to people our own age. It’s kinda comforting knowing that you can go crazy with the young people or just relax with the older people.”

From something as simple as paying a fee so that Chris can attend such events as an undergraduate, to providing something as crucial as housing for the family, Raymond says Princeton has really worked to make any accommodations necessary so that Chris could attend.

Chris concurred, saying “I love that they have this huge support structure set in place so that when [the veterans] got here, we had people to go to.”

 

Teddy

Teddy’s real name is Tyler Eddy, but his wife and his friends knows him by his nickname, which came from the nametag he wore on his uniform (his first initial and last name: T. Eddy). Since starting his first year, he’s actually been able to spend more time with his wife Kaitlin and their two-year-old daughter Zoey than when he was in the Marine Corps doing aviation repair, where he worked twelve-hour days–even though he’s studying astrophysics now.

“As far as the amount of time with my family, it’s increased,” Teddy said. “But all the time I’m with my family I’m working on homework. I’m happy. I just want to be around them.”

Academically and socially, Teddy said, Princeton is geared towards people who are just getting out of high school. Teddy had to explain to the school that no, he couldn’t live in a residential college–he had a daughter. He went to Prospect once during Frosh Week, just to see it, but that was it.

Teddy said that the program to welcome transfer students opens next year, and they’re committed to keeping veterans on campus, so Princeton is trying to identify and solve the problems that his small group of veterans face. So far, it’s working.

“Princeton’s just been really supportive in every speedbump we ran into along the way,” Teddy said. He found friends in his OA group–he said his leader might be one of the nicest people he’s ever met–and is getting involved in the Pace Center. And his place in the Lakeside Apartments has a playground around the corner from his doorstep. “When I got to see Princeton’s campus, it’s really nice to have a family,” he said. “It turned out to be perfect.”

 

Brendan

For Brendan, Princeton has been a whirlwind experience from the beginning–from being “basically forced” to apply by a good friend to having been accepted on his very last day of deployment. He pressed ‘accept’ the very same night that he got his admission decision.

After his deployment, Brendan immediately enrolled in into the Warriors-Scholars Project, a transition program that helps veterans reacclimate to traditional schooling and a structured learning environment. Right after that, he started FSI2U, an online version of Princeton University’s early access program. Then he started his first semester–he hasn’t had that much downtime in five years.

Brendan doesn’t need the break–he already has big plans for his time at Princeton. He’s deciding between Molecular Biology and Chemistry, either of which would help fulfill his childhood dream to pursue medicine. He’s thinking of becoming an anesthesiologist, like his older brother, or focusing in emergency medicine. Brendan said he feels more prepared for his future after military service. “It wasn’t like it had changed my vision or changed my goal,” he said. “It was reaffirming.”

Along with the other veterans on campus, Brendan is involved in the Student-Veterans Alliance and Scholars Institute Fellowship Program (SIFP). His main sport all throughout high school was wrestling, and he slipped right back into it this semester, walking onto the varsity team.

For other veterans–especially those with families–living at the Lakeside apartments is ideal. But for Brendan, who’s only 25, he’s loved the dorm life. It reminds him of the camaraderie and constant entertainment he had when he enlisted in the Navy and was living in the barracks. He has privacy and down time in his single-person dorm, but there’s also always someone around to hang out.

While he has just one semester in the books, Brendan still has ideas about career and life prospects post-Princeton. “I’m tired of hearing about everybody that wants to be an Econ major and go work on Wall Street. Like, you get into the best school, you don’t wanna give back? You should do something to pay it forward,” he said. “What are you doing to set up the next generation?”

 

 

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