Americans’ relationship with military veterans is typically one of distant respect. We hear about the casualties of war but don’t truly appreciate or understand the sacrifices involved in the defense of our country. We rarely have a connection with those who have died in battle; even those from the same town or high school. Veterans Day has become nothing more than a break from work or school, not a time of reflection.

West Virginia University Professor Carolyn Atkins wants to change these perceptions and establish community connections with WVU student veterans through a new class modeled after her “Speaking to Communities” course also known as “Student Athletes Speak Out.”

Like the athletes, a class of nine veterans will present five-minute speeches from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8 at the Jerry West Room in the WVU Coliseum.

The WVU Community and public are invited to attend the presentation. This year’s class features veterans from the U.S. Army, Marines and the Army National Guard.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” Atkins said, “and when you hear about some of the experiences the athletes or this group of veterans goes through, it puts a face and a personality to them.

“It’s important that we remember what Veterans’ Day is about and it’s important that we remember what our veterans have done.”

Unlike the athletes, who typically reveal personal struggles and triumphs, the veterans will blend stories from personal experience with commentary about military life, touching on topical issues like mandatory military service, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and how to truly support veterans and those currently serving.

“A few of the speeches cover controversial topics and these young men don’t have a problem with telling you how they feel,” Atkins said. “But if anybody has earned the right to say what they feel it’s veterans.”

“These students persevered in many cases to make it to college and through the military, and in many ways both give them a future. The speeches really show their personality and individual stories to the public.”

Atkins said she hopes the presentation will break some of the conventional stereotypes of veterans. Along with their final presentation, the veterans gave talks at local schools.

“I’m interested to see how people react to them. They’re all different but they’re all very real,” she said

“Teaching this class of military veterans who have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq has been an extraordinary learning experience for me.”

A class of 11 athletes will also present five-minute speeches from 1-2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 at the Jerry West Room in the WVU Coliseum.

Atkins, an award-winning speech pathology professor in the WVU College of Human Resources and Education, first offered the Speaking to Communities class in spring 1990. She is the author of “Great Unexpectations: Lessons from the Hearts of College Athletes.”



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CONTACT: Christie Zachary, Human Resources and Education