Army veteran’s compelling commencement speech
Zane Speegle is U.S. Army Veteran who served two tours in Iraq. He overcame a lot of obstacles when returning to civilian life and in this speech at the Brandman University 2016 Commencement ceremony for the Lacey campus, the father and husband shares his deeply personal experience during the journey to earning an MBA.
Thank you all, thank you Dr. Deegan and certainly thank you for your prophetic words about a deeply uncomfortable situation here. So I was asked to just give my experience as being a veteran and coming back to school and I couldn’t help but just to sit down and think about all the great times that I had with all these great people and to think about why I actually came to Brandman and I certainly re-lived a lot of great times that we had, whether it was going to the Ram after class to get away from some professors.
I had a special relationship that most of these students were not fortunate enough to have. And I will cry, I promise you that. I had the opportunity to work directly with the administrative staff, professors, and fellow students. I had the privilege to help with finance homework, with proofreading papers, I changed a few lightbulbs… I know I changed some washing machine hoses, headlights, anything you can think of, I had the fortunate chance to do.
I’m able to stand here today and call so many of you my friends and I certainly thank god for
I would begin my story by saying that I believe our paths are not rigidly structure or forced upon us. But certainly guided with a soft hand with much more say in how our lives turn out than is probably good for us.
The first time I heard about Brandman I was in a class for another university, finishing up an associate’s degree.
I had waited two years with only one class remaining to finish this degree. Now perhaps this was coincidence but I see it nothing less than divine intervention. Another service member was explaining how Brandman had some great transfer credits, and a particular bachelor’s degree that was fairly interesting.
So few months past and it was finally time for me to get out of the army and honestly this was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made my life.
I had been in the Army for over eight years, completed two tours of duty in Iraq, and had dreams and expectations to do twenty years and retire. Certainly it was easier for me to decide to join the Army than it ever was for me to get out.
At this point my wife was six months pregnant, we had no job lined up, no real means of supporting a family… and we simply followed our faith…
Two months after I separated from the Army I walked into the Lacey campus. Thanks to the ever so gentle elbow from my wife. Knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, but not knowing how on earth to get there, I sat down with Michael and he guided me down the path of a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.
Kailani got me enrolled in my first set of classes and my path began to take form. As the months and the classes went by my wife and I continue to live off the GI Bill and my VA disability and here an opportunity came for me to begin a work study program at Brandman. Now this is where I began to form lifelong relationships…relationships which I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I began to work more closely with other disabled vets who probably taught me a lot more about myself that I ever anticipated.
I began to better our struggles in separating from the military, we found so many similarities with each other especially in feeling like we were sometimes begging for benefits instead of having earned them. It is incredibly difficult for many of our veterans to open up to people about these issues but even more so with someone who has no similar experience or background; having this experience, I became some sort of a liaison between the disabled veterans, their veteran benefits, and Brandman University – and it was a joy.
During this time I had the extreme pleasure of working with Dr. Loren O’Connor who has a great respect for service members in so many different ways that we discussed often.
He started up and he got funded, his accessible education department, which gives any persons with disabilities the tools needed to increase their potential to achieve success while continuing their education.
A few examples, dragon speak, PDF books anything from smart pens to even iPads, it’s a very amazing department.
We formed a bit of a team and for a while we got almost every veteran or persons with disabilities who came to the Lacey campus enrolled in this program. Dr. O’Connor’s and Brandman’s drive to help veterans specifically is really unbelievable in a day when bottom lines are becoming more and more important and funding these services don’t seem to be very abundant.
Now regardless of what service any one of these veterans here is in, the team mentality is drilled into our heads. You go from me to we in no time flat. As the transition process you begin to feel… The feeling of belonging seems to escape you and you’re often thought of or seen as a quitter or that you simply couldn’t handle it…
During the time any one of these veteran served we were told where to be when to be there and what uniform to wear when we got there. We are hardwired, brainwashed, indoctrinated to live this way so that we can go to war and win when we’re called upon.
I have talked with many vets who say one of the most difficult tasks in their day… is simply deciding what shirt to wear. Even to this day I would prefer my wife pick out my shirt – and she’s great at it by the way, she picked out this bow tie.
Starting school here wasn’t the easiest decision I’ve ever made but perhaps one of the best. I had a vision of where I thought my life would go, yet had no idea how to get there. Thomas Edison said “vision without execution is hallucination.” With the education I have recieved with Brandman, I have been able to provide for my family at levels I could only imagine a few years back. In March of 2015 I was offered a position at Madigan Army Medical Center and I reluctantly accepted it over my work study position at Brandman.
Later that year I finished my MBA at Brandman, and less than four months later I was offered my dream job for which I had designed my education around. I had executed my vision.
Building relationships, having a purpose, feeling like I belong and giving legs to my vision were the most important aspects for me and my education. This has probably been the most important process of improving my mental health during this time, with recent studies and reports of veteran suicide rates on the rise, giving us relationships with others with similar backgrounds, giving us a purpose and belonging will go a long way in reducing this number. These qualities fostered a driving me to succeed and kept me going through those times when we just don’t think we’re going to finish this class. So if you know a struggling veteran I would challenge everyone here to either get them into counseling and get them into school of some sort.
Get them adequately employed so they can provide for their family so they can be proud of who they are and proud of what they’ve done and proud of what they will continue to do. In this way we can help protect the veterans who have protected us.
Finally, I look around this room and I see so many faces that I already miss. I would like to thank each one of you for your part in my success here at Brandman and I hope that I was able in some way to help you as much as you’ve helped me.
Thank you for all the sacrifices you had to make in order to sit here today but even more thanks go out to our families.
Without each one of you we would not be here. Thank you for pushing us, thank you for elbowing us, and simply loving us.
I would like to end by saying thank you to God, to my wonderful wife Rose and my son Liam…thank you for understanding when I would be in class all night and I couldn’t put you to bed… thank you for the push to be great… and thank you for your love.
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