Military memorabilia fills the display case outside the Mildred Sawyer Library this month, and among the items presented there is a Marine Corps dress uniform jacket. Its gleaming buttons pose a stark contrast to the pair of dusty, battered combat gloves directly beneath it. These items belong to Dwayne Smith, a sophomore applied legal studies major and president of the Suffolk Undergraduate Student Veterans Organization.
Smith knows something about leadership. At age 20, he was leading a squad of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, some much older than he was. So it’s perhaps not surprising that he has taken on another leadership role in his new life as a university student.
With the help of some other undergraduate veterans, he launched a formal organization aimed at supporting his fellow former service members in civilian and university life.
“I wanted to establish a sense of camaraderie among student veterans because it’s hard to transition when you come back,” says Smith. “I struggled every day. I wanted to provide a place where veterans can come and just relax and be themselves.”
The group also aims to form connections between student veterans and prospective employers.
“The plan I envisioned was to create a bridge between civilians and veterans, so people can understand our lifestyle, and we can understand the business lifestyle,” says Smith.
To that end, the group invites visiting employers to speak with members about how to present themselves in interviews.
“We come from a community where we always say ‘we.’ Taking commands, and saying ‘aye.’ The hardest part when you get out [of the military] is, you don’t know who’s in charge, in a certain sense. When in fact, you’re in charge,” says Smith.
The group will formally open a new student veteran lounge at noon Nov. 10, on the ninth floor of the Sawyer building. Smith’s ambitions for the space include turning it into a one-stop resource center where student veterans can get information and help regarding the veteran experience at Suffolk.