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placeholder Thousands honor Our Lady of Guadalupe

1,000 gather for Vietnamese martyrs’ mass

Preparing for Jesus’ birthday

St. Isidore Knights aid needy families

Filipinos celebrate Simbang Gabi

Some children’s books suitable for Christmas gifts

Sister Ann Ronin, OP: Quiet warrior for social justice

Bishop, 6 priests plan pilgrimage to India

Interfaith group prays for end to killings in Oakland community

St. Ignatius parishioners on patrol

Black Catholics’ survey finds strong engagement

Veterans find warm welcome at Saint Mary’s College

Teens inspired at national conference

Agencies receive Operation Rice Bowl grants

Board approves canonization miracle

placeholder December 12, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA

Father Salvatore Ragusa, second from left, with some of the military veterans leaving their mark on Saint Mary’s College.
José Luis Aguirre photo
Veterans find warm welcome
at Saint Mary’s College

With his Army service ribbons pinned to the pocket of his suit, Shomari Carter placed a hymnal on each of the 27 chairs of the side chapel known as the Brothers Chapel at Saint Mary’s College of Moraga.

Carter, a veteran and student at Saint Mary’s, was helping to prepare for a Mass whose celebration he had advocated.

Father Salvatore Ragusa SDS, celebrated the Mass on Nov. 9, with the backdrop of an American flag and cards on which the veterans and others had written names of service members lost and remembered.

For Carter, who was graduated from Oakland’s McClymonds High School in 1998 and celebrated his 18th birthday in basic training, college is a hard-earned benefit after serving in the military. But it isn’t something he is just rushing through. At 31, in addition to his classes and part-time job on campus, Carter maintains active membership in several groups, including the Pre-Law Club.

But his strongest bonds may be with the group of veterans who gather around the lunch table on Wednesdays. Begun with a chance meeting, it now provides a central gathering place for the busy veterans, as well as the dependents of veterans who are also receiving educational benefits.

A few years ago, there were about a dozen veterans on the Saint Mary’s campus — which, during World War II served as a ground school for naval flight training. One of the instructors, Gerald R. Ford, went on to become president of the United States. Today, there are 34 veterans on the campus of almost 4,000 graduates and undergraduates, and that number may be growing.

Part of it can be attributed to Saint Mary’s welcoming attitude toward the veterans. Many of them are receiving benefits under the Yellow Ribbon GI Bill program, which funds tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition. Saint Mary’s covers 50 percent of a veteran’s remaining cost for tuition, books and fees, with the Veterans Administration providing the remainder. Veterans eligible for this program served at least 36 months on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001.

Other forms of assistance include the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill and the Veterans Educational Assistance Program.

Lyone Conner helps veterans coordinate their schedules and paperwork from her post in the registrar’s office.

For their part, Carter and the other veterans are not graduating from Saint Mary’s without leaving their mark on the 149-year old institution.

Take, for instance, the patch of ivy in front of the dining commons. Or what was a patch of ivy, until veterans Alex Duluk and Max Crowel, assisted by Isaac Morton, got permission to lay the groundwork for the Veterans Memorial Garden. Wasting no time, they spent an early November Saturday clearing ivy for a project for which funds will be raised.

With two rakes and shovel, Morton said, they filled his pickup. Twice.

Morton, 24, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, ran for student body president last spring. He grew up in the Brentwood/Antioch area. “I wanted to stay local,” he said.
Returning from combat to campus is not an easy path. For example, life in Iraq or Afghanistan may not include access to a computer for an online application. One veteran used a satellite phone to contact the admissions office. It worked.

For some veterans, the choice of college came down to the much-larger University of California Berkeley campus and Saint Mary’s. Morton said he “felt safer as a veteran at Saint Mary’s.”

Military service and the age differences do enter classroom discussions from time to time.

“It comes up,” Carter said, “Last year we talked about 9/11. They were 12; I was 21. I was in my third year in the Army. Big difference to live through it than to hear about it,” he said.

Andy Stevens, 46 and a Marine veteran, found his career at Caterpillar cut short when he was let go “in the fifth round of layoffs.” After starting at one Bay Area university, he transferred to Saint Mary’s to study financial services. The second-year student is a member of the college’s crew team.

Carter, who served from 1998 to 2003, said he was stationed in Hawaii, “but rarely there.” These days, he spends 10 to 12 hours a day on campus, participating in classes and activities. The sociology and communications major may add one more major before he’s through. And he has a part-time job in the college’s communication department.

“I’m one of the few students who live off campus who has a full meal plan,” he said.
As the veterans, including Joseph Zimmer and Vincent Townsend, gathered for the Mass to commemorate Veterans Day, they remembered their compatriots, both living and dead. Father Ragusa remembered the students’ service as well.

“We thank you,” Father Ragusa said. “We thank God for you.”

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