Note: A longer version of this commentary/book review is
forthcoming in November 2014.
I recently completed Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book, For Love of Country, detailing the many ways in which our service men and women and their families embody values of importance to us as a nation: bravery, selflessness and an unwavering belief in our freedoms. The authors implore us to do more for them than say: “Thank you for your service.” We need to hire veterans; we need to help them recover from their injuries, both physical and mental; we need to listen to their stories and use their talents and experience and those of their families to serve our nation in non-combat situations as civilians.
In Schultz, et. al.’s new book, I also have found a new way of framing how to make higher education more effective and successful for both our veterans and the other students whom we serve, many of whom are first generation students (like most veterans).
While veterans may not have the “usual” criteria for admissions into college and have technically not been in school for years, veterans have been learning while serving our nation. Veterans learned by doing and under extreme circumstances. And since their survival depended on what they learned and then applied, they “studied” hard. They learned to work as a team; they learned to care for each other – to have each other’s back. They learned a new language (or two); they ate food with which they were not familiar. They lived without the comforts of home, miles and miles away from anything vaguely familiar. They were separated from their families. They were placed in situations that were dangerous, with uncertain outcomes. They saw things that were frightening – death, severed limbs and pain. They endured painful rehabilitation, often surrounded by a supportive familial and community structure. These are all important attributes for success in higher education.
Veterans bring two other key skills to our campuses. First, they have an understanding of failure and the capacity to dust themselves off and try again. Education is all about accepting failure and risking; that is key to learning. Also, veterans have experience overcoming huge obstacles–surviving battles and injuries and extended separations. Our success with our current students – helping them believe in themselves and enabling them to feel that they belong on a college campus – can be transported to veterans. Bringing a group of resilient, gritty and determined leaders to a campus – individuals who have been leading their fellow soldiers into battle – fosters a campus culture of shared responsibility, respect and tenacity.
For the Love of Country reminded me of what business leaders like Schultz know well: the key to a quality workforce is building on the strengths, not weaknesses, of employees. Now, we must focus and build on the remarkable strengths that veterans bring to our campuses rather than solely on the challenges they bring with them. And in so doing, veterans will do our institutions proud, continuing to build our Democracy even after they have taken off their uniforms and set down their weapons.