The spring 2018 commencement marked the fourth semester for the tradition of active duty, National Guard, Reserve and U.S. military veterans who have served honorably to wear red, white, and blue veteran honor cords.

“We are a University that has a strong military connection which stretches back to President Hovey our first President,” said Jess Ray, director of Veterans and Military Services. “This special recognition of the cords allows Illinois State an opportunity to show our respect and gratitude to our graduates who made a commitment to serve our country.”

The idea started when a spring 2016 graduate and member of Omega Delta Sigma (ODS), IL-A, the co-ed service fraternity for veteran and military students, noticed that ROTC students were acknowledged for their commission. They thought those with past and current service should be recognized as well.

Graduating senior Nicholas Grzywa, a U.S. Army veteran who served eight years, and president of ODS, IL-A wrote and submitted the proposal at the end of the spring 2016 semester. The proposal requested that the University analyze three possible ways of acknowledgement: verbal recognition at the ceremony, similar to ROTC recognition, acknowledgement in the commencement programs with a symbol next to the student’s name, and/or establishing a dedicated cord that can only be worn by veteran and military students, with a description in the commencement program about what the cord means. “To my wonderful surprise, the University agreed to all three options, and Jess Ray was able to find a way for the cords to be free of cost to the students,” Grzywa said.

After recognizing veterans with the cords for the past four semesters, 79 veterans have worn the cords, with this past semester being the largest group with 36.

“As I was writing the proposal, I began to reflect why it was worth the effort, both mine and the University’s,” Grzywa said. “I remember reading a USA Today article that covered a study that found that while the graduation rate for veterans was not horrible, it was still approximately 10 percent lower than the average college student. Between that, the well-published high suicide rate, and other struggles that veterans deal with on top of the shared struggles of all college students, it’s a nice gesture from the University to recognize their appreciation. Also, any little bit of encouragement that we may provide to future veteran and military students to make it to that finish line is worth the effort.”

The Veteran and Military Service Office emails students who have applied for the honor and those whose records show they qualify. The student must visit the office in Moulton Hall to fill out a form, which is used to validate service. The student is notified when the cord is ready for pick up.