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Student Veterans Recall Military Service and Sacrifice, Honor, and Duty

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Patti Costello was fresh out of high school when she enlisted in the Navy. Back then she thought her military service would end after four years. She would get married, have children, and settle into a home with a white picket fence.

She was wrong. Her work with the Navy would continue for 20 years and become God’s calling for her life, she told Georgian Court faculty, staff, students, and community residents who gathered on campus to commemorate Veterans Day.

The event was hosted by the university Counseling Center and the GCU Student Veterans Association on November 10, just as campus officials learned Georgian Court was named a 2017 Military-Friendly School.

Three people smiling
GCU student and Navy veteran Patti Costello (l) joins Army veteran Michael Gregory, along with Mrs. Linda Brown, during Veterans Day 2016 observances. Mrs. Brown was representing her husband, the late John Brown, who earned three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam.

“I can’t thank God enough,” Patti said. “Serving my country has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. When you see the flag and what it stands for, you know it’s an honor.”

During her career, Navy assignments took her to Japan; San Diego; Puerto Rico; Washington, D.C.; and Diego Garcia, the naval support facility in the middle of the Indian Ocean, just seven miles south of the equator. In retirement, she returned to college to enroll at Georgian Court.

She hopes her journey might inspire others to achieve their goals.

“Don’t give up on your dream—I came back to school at 45,” she said. “Don’t think just because you don’t come to college right after high school that you can’t do so later.”

Military Service: An Honor and Opportunity

The Veterans Day panel discussion event marked the third year GCU has invited student veterans to speak. Robin Solbach, Psy.D., director of the GCU Counseling Center, offered a tribute to those who helped make the series—and the GCU Veterans Resource Center—a reality.

Dr. Solbach also shared some of the reflections from student veterans who could not attend. Among them:

“Defending the rights we enjoy is an honor.”

“The military taught me skills and gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had, given where I came from.”

“Serving in the military gave my life meaning.”

In addition to acknowledging faculty and staff, she paid special tribute to the late John Brown, a Lakewood resident and decorated Vietnam War veteran who supported veteran students.

“He had three Purple Hearts and was inspiring to us all at GCU,” she said. “We are thankful that we had him to help us launch the Veterans Project.”

Taking Nothing for Granted

As a youngster, Army veteran Michael Gregory faced poverty, an abusive stepfather, and legal problems. Later, readjusting to civilian life after two consecutive tours in Iraq was difficult, too.

Today, he is a prolific writer and leader in the student veterans program. He relishes the encouragement from caring staff and loves the engaging conversations with GCU faculty—two of the many blessings he does not take for granted.

“God didn’t just open doors for me,” he said. “God kicked down some doors to help me get here.”

Years ago when Michael was in a VA hospital, a soldier from New Jersey mentioned living in Lakewood. That patient’s stories stuck with him, and when Michael decided he wanted a degree, he googled “colleges in Lakewood.”

Georgian Court University was the first listing in the search return.

“I grabbed my DD 214’s (military discharge papers) and walked two miles to campus. I was out of breath when I reached the right office, and the first thing I said was, ‘I want to go to college.’

“Four hours later, I was enrolled.”

Learning from Military Service

“My journey may have been filled with grief and suffering, but GCU has made it worth it,” Michael said, adding that lessons learned in the military also translate into the classroom.

“I learned the value of discipline, respect, and purpose and a sense of belonging to something that is bigger than yourself,” he said. “Those years taught me to look out for the next man before you look out for yourself.”

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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