Veteran, first-generation student set to graduate
Winter Commencement is a special moment for Juan Martinez ’19, a criminal justice major and student veteran. He is the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college, a moment so special that his family is coming from Michigan and Texas to see Juan walk across the stage and become a proud Radford alumnus.
“I’m excited,” Juan said. “I’ve been going to school since I got out of the Marine Corps, and I’m thrilled to be starting the next phase of my life.”
Juan would not have gotten to this point without the support of the Radford University’s Military Resource Center (MRC), a place that supports all student veterans as they pursue their education.
As a veteran, the small class sizes stood out to Juan when he was looking at colleges.
“You're taking your classes with 20 to 25 people. I had just gotten out of gotten off active duty and large groups of people made me uneasy,” Juan said. “Coming here to Radford, which has a smaller campus, was a big point for me as I wanted to not be in large classes and surrounded by a lot of people.”
In his criminal justice courses, Juan had the opportunity to learn applicable skills as he works to become a police officer.
“I'm thankful that this is an opportunity that I've had, and I've gotten take these courses,” Juan said. “I've learned a lot about is what minding your P's and Q's is as a police officer. I really appreciate that.”
At the MRC, student veterans, active military and reserve members, as well as spouses and military dependents, have a place to study and socialize. Additionally, the MRC provides access to a variety of on-campus resources, including the opportunity to learn from fellow student veterans. That is a benefit Juan not only received, but later was able to provide to others.
“One thing I've been able to help with is understanding military benefits,” Juan said. “I've been going to the VA, and whenever I go up there and I get new information, I let everyone here know. One of those things was that there's now an app you can use to order or refill your prescriptions. You don't have to go to the VA for that.”
Service runs in Juan’s family – both his father and grandfather were in the Marines, as well as uncles and cousins. Juan knew that he wanted to serve early in his childhood.
“I was in fifth grade when 9/11 happened,” Juan said. “I wanted to do something about it. That was when I made my decision. I wanted to make a difference. My service was because it was a job that I could be proud of.”
Juan is still making a difference through his work with the MRC. He assists new veterans on campus as they make their transition into the Radford campus community.
“It's a tight group, and that’s one thing that is very important for veterans,” Juan said. “A lot of times when a veteran first gets out, they think, ‘I'm too different to be friends with these people.’ When they talk about their experiences, nobody knows what it truly means. If they talk to another veteran, we know what they went through. We will take care of them. We’re a family.”
Driven by a commitment to make a difference, Juan is eager to continue his service with the Blacksburg Police Department after graduation.
“I live in the New River Valley and if I can help continue to make it a place that I'm proud to live in and continue to be a place that I'm okay with my kids being in, I want to make that difference,” Juan said. “I can make a difference, and that's important to me.”
At Radford University, veterans achieve success after service. Through the MRC, student veterans, such as Juan, connect with a close-knit community on campus that is ready to support and encourage them along their collegiate journey.