The Evergreen State College honored student veterans at the 11th annual Veterans Challenge Coining Ceremony on Wednesday, December 18.

The ceremony took place on the third floor mezzanine of the library building where Randy Kelley, Director of the college’s Veterans Resource Center, delivered opening remarks and handed out special coins.

Evergreen Veterans Challenge Coin
The Evergreen Veterans Challenge Coin was redesigned in 2015.
Photo credit: Shauna Bittle, courtesy of The Evergreen State College

“You bring a wealth of experiences,” said Kelley. “Veterans are an important part of the Evergreen community because of their problem-solving skills and ability to think across disciplines to find creative solutions.”

Evergreen President George Bridges also spoke, telling veterans they are valuable members of the student body. “Just as you learn from your colleagues in the military, together working collaboratively to solve problems, we do the same here,” said Bridges.

When he taught, Bridges said veterans were some of his most engaged students, “because of their life experiences and their work with others in the field.”

Republican Representative Chris Gildon of District 25, which includes Puyallup, Fife, South Hill, Summit-Waller, Midland and Parkland, was the guest speaker.

Randy Kelley
Randy Kelley, director of the Veterans Resource Center, holds up a challenge coin as he hosts the 2019 Veterans Challenge Coin Ceremony on Weds., Dec. 18, 2019
Photo credit: Shauna Bittle, courtesy of The Evergreen State College

He told veterans his personal story of rising from humble beginnings as the great-grandson of a disabled west Texas blacksmith and janitor to become the first in his family to earn a college degree while working in the Texas oil fields after his service in the U.S. Army.

Gildon said his grandfather was a diesel mechanic, his father was a welder, and that his family did not talk with him about his grades or the value of an education. But he said he always knew he wanted something different. And the Army provided a way.

“So I came up with the crazy idea to join the military and use the G-I Bill.”

Gildon told the veterans that their investment in education was critical and that his college degree changed everything for him. “That was the achievement that has propelled me to where I represent over 150,000 Washingtonians.”

USA veteran Steven Day
USA veteran Steven Day receiving shows his challenge coin to his son, 3-year-old, Gordon. Photo credit: Shauna Bittle, courtesy of The Evergreen State College

Leah Beebe, who served in the U.S. Navy and is now enrolled at Evergreen working toward a career in conservation biology, received a coin.

About the coin, she said, “I think it’s a good thing to give recognition to veterans that get out and then decide to get a college education—for having the courage to want to have a college degree.”

Kelley invites veterans to visit the college’s Veterans Resource Center to find camaraderie or just to share a cup of coffee.

Beebe works as an education peer counselor in the Veterans Resource Center. “When I found out that there was a center here where you can actually hang out with other veterans and feel like you belong, that helped a lot. I guess you could say it’s like another family.”

veterans coins Evergreen
Left to right: James Blacklaw, USCG veteran; Leah Beebe, USN veteran; Sean Millam, USA veteran.
Photo credit: Shauna Bittle, courtesy of The Evergreen State College

Fifteen veterans received coins at the event, etched with images representing different branches of the military. The college began honoring veterans with the ceremony in 2008 to welcome veterans to campus.

All five branches of the military were represented: The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and The Coast Guard. More than 400 veterans are enrolled at the college.


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