Transitions can be tough, and while the transition into the college classroom can be challenging for just about any new student, it’s an even greater shift for a specific group of students: student-veterans.
Before enrolling as a Knight, Jodson Graves served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a combat photographer, a ground safety specialist and a non-commissioned officer for five years.
“The decision to join the Marines was hard,” he said. “Iraq and Afghanistan were still going on, and it was a bit scary because you just don’t know where you’re going to end up in any branch of the military. … I chose the Marines because if I was going to do this, I wanted to show some courage.”
He missed the war deployments, but he did deploy to Spain and Africa on security missions with a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF), which he documented as a combat photographer.
Today, he is a Liberal Studies major with focuses in business and economics. However, his goals as a student run much deeper than just finding a lucrative career. “My goal is to facilitate others practicing their passions,” he said. “I believe we are often caught up with making money and forget who we really are; I want to see joy return to lives as individuals realize how they can make a living and do the things they enjoy.”
Jodson and his wife, Grace Lynne, who is also a Marine veteran, settled in Louisville after exiting the Corps, ready to step away from the stress of the military and focus on being good parents to daughter Claire, 3 and son Theophilus, 1.
Enrolling and supporting active-duty and veteran students has been a major strategic initiative at Bellarmine in recent years. According to the Office of Military and Veteran Services, approximately 125 active-duty, veterans and veteran dependents enrolled at Bellarmine in fall 2019, an increase of more than 55% since last fall.
With a growing number of military and veteran students on campus, it’s important to make sure those students’ voices are heard and their needs are being met. While their experiences may be unique, their aspirations to earn their degrees and be a part of an encouraging academic community unites them with all Bellarmine students.
With that, we reached out to Jodson to learn a little more about what it means to be a student-veteran.
How did you end up in Louisville? What made you choose Bellarmine?
That’s a question I’m asked often. I usually say we threw a dart at the map. What really happened is my wife and I were planning our exit from the Corps—somewhat in a rush, since I’d just got back from my deployment to Spain—and she thought Tennessee might be nice. I’d never heard much about Tennessee, but what I did know was I was more interested in Kentucky. I asked her, we explored the state and thought Louisville might be good. … After a while working, we decided to use our Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefit. I thought I wanted to be an accountant, and Bellarmine has a highly-rated program. I’m no longer in accounting, but I liked the school a lot. I felt like it was a space to learn and grow into the next stage of life.
How did it feel to be back in school after your military service?
It felt good. The military is fast-paced and difficult. I didn’t realize how high-strung I was until my second semester. Attending Bellarmine gives me the opportunity to wind down while still being productive and preparing myself for the next stage of my life.
What skills or experiences from your service prepared you to be successful in the classroom?
Time management. On deployment in 2017, I was the only combat photo-grapher covering an area larger than the United States. I had to somehow balance work, rest, training and travel. Since my work was essentially tagging along with infantrymen while they exercised, I would end the “easy” part of my job completely worn out. Nowadays, my plate is still pretty full. I have two kids, a wife, my mother just moved in with us, and my wife and I try to go on dates once a week in between managing our full-time class schedules. Still, through the busy weeks I feel like I’m doing less now than before.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a student-veteran?
Just knowing what route to take through school. The guidance we get assumes we already know how the school system works, so we are left to find our way up that learning curve on our own.
How can fellow students, faculty and/or staff better support student-veterans?
I feel fortunate to have few physical or mental injuries from my time in service, but on behalf of those with greater injuries, I think you just have to ask them. Veterans don’t do a ton of asking for help, but if you take the initiative, I think you’re more likely to find out.
What do you believe are the greatest needs or resources for fellow student-veterans today?
Community. When you leave the military, you’re leaving a family. The Corps was my family for five years—and for many vets, their service was all they knew for 20+ years. The veteran’s association at Bellarmine really isn’t that strong yet, so it’s a little unnerving to be around so many people whom we don’t identify with. Strengthening the veteran community at Bellarmine is the first step to identifying the resources we really need.
By Samantha O’Brien ’12, ’15 MAC