Veterans continue cause after Wright’s departure

Former College President James Wright may no longer be at the helm of the College, but his support of the community of veterans at Dartmouth and across the nation continues to serve as an inspiration for student veterans on campus, according to Craig Fitzgerald ’11, president of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Veterans Association.

While Wright a former Marine and his leadership have been missed, DUVA is “confident” that College President Jim Yong Kim will continue to listen to veterans’ concerns, Fitzgerald said.

“Kim told us that coming from Korea, he understands the importance of what military members do for their country and that he plans to continue in Wright’s footsteps in order to ensure there’s a veteran presence on campus and that their needs are being met,” he said.

Since Wright’s departure, DUVA has continued to serve as a support network for student veterans who may face unique challenges while adjusting to college life, Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald served eight years in the U.S. Air Force as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape instructor and pararescueman before being injured and retiring from the military in 2004.

“The group’s goal is to make sure the guys have an easy and comfortable transition to the Dartmouth community from military life,” he said. “The majority of veterans are older than your typical college student, and they also have certain issues that need to be accommodated for that other students might not face.”

The organization, members of which bond over shared experiences, is extremely diverse and includes students from various branches of the U.S. military as well as foreign forces, according to Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald characterized Wright as a “huge veteran supporter” during his tenure as College president. Wright met with DUVA each term and spoke with each veteran one-on-one several times a year, according to Fitzgerald.

“He really went out of his way to make sure we were being taken care of and had a smooth transition to life at Dartmouth,” Fitzgerald said.

Wright encouraged veterans to use him as a resource a policy that has not changed since he stepped down as College president, Fitzgerald said.

“Even though he is off campus now, he has always had an open door policy toward all the veterans on campus,” Fitzgerald said. “If any of us ever had anything we needed help with, he was always there to just lend an ear, and I don’t think this has really changed.”

Although he no longer holds an official College post, Wright still serves as a “valuable resource,” Fitzgerald said. Wright met with student veterans several times over the past year to keep up with their progress and concerns, according to Fitzgerald.

While DUVA mainly serves as an internal support group for members, it recently formed a partnership with Project RightChoice, a student organization that raises money for and awareness about a different “worthwhile cause” each year. This partnership has enabled DUVA to reach out to the larger Dartmouth community.

Project RightChoice was started in the Fall by Fitzgerald and Wills Begor ’12. Wright attended the group’s inaugural event, a Veterans Day gala.

Project RightChoice’s goal is multidimensional in that it aims to raise money for worthy causes, increase students’ awareness of pressing issues and empower students to become future leaders with the skills needed to serve populations in need, Matthew Oatway ’12, director of finance for the organization, said.

The group, which will identify a single cause to support each calendar year, chose to focus on The Fisher House Foundation, an organization that supports wounded veterans and their families, during its inaugural year. The foundation provides temporary lodging for veterans’ family members, allowing them to remain close by during periods of hospitalization, according to the organization’s website.

The group’s main fundraising event this year was a Cinco de Mayo gala on May 8 in Alumni Hall, which was co-sponsored by DUVA. The event, which drew over 200 guests, raised more than $23,000 for the Fisher House, according to Oatway.

“People left with a newfound appreciation and understanding of how much veterans have sacrificed and how important it is that we continue to support them,” Oatway said.

Brendan Kelly ’13, vice president of DUVA and chair of the educational outreach committee of Project RightChoice, said that the gala was an opportunity for people to see the obstacles veterans face.

“I think a lot of students and other people know there’s adversity, but they don’t really have a strong idea of the types of problems that veterans and their families have to deal with,” Kelly said. “Being able to spread the message is a great way for me to give something back to the campus as a whole.”

While the Cinco de Mayo event was largely geared toward students, the group’s July 31 benefit auction in Boston will target business owners, according to Oatway. The group hopes to raise $75,000 at the event and $150,000 in total by the end of the calendar year.

The group has invited Wright to the event and plans to present him with an award in recognition of his continued dedication, Fitzgerald said.

Wright has been recognized for his efforts to support the educational futures of veterans nationwide. In April 2007, Wright began a pilot program in conjunction with the American Council on Education an organization that performs research and public policy advocacy connected to higher education that serves as an academic advisory resource for injured veterans, The Dartmouth previously reported.

The program, “Severely Injured Military Veterans: Fulfilling their Dreams,” provides injured soldiers with academic advisers and campus advocates who offer guidance throughout their adjustment to campus life. The program, which is based in both schools and hospitals, has enrolled more than 500 veterans over the past several years.

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