Point Park University, Jake Wheatley Honor Veterans at On-Campus Ceremony Friday, November 10, 2023
Point Park faculty, staff and students gathered in Village Park Wednesday, November 8 to honor veterans in our University community. “In this wonderful city, on this most amazing campus, we’re here to recognize and thank all who gave some and some who gave all for this great nation,” said Dr. Chris W. Brussalis, President of Point Park.
Dr. Brussalis listed some of the ways that Point Park welcomes veterans, including transfer-friendly programs that allow veterans with some college credits to complete their degrees, our participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, and our veterans’ lounge on the 7th floor of the Student Center.
Dr. Brussalis introduced the keynote speaker, Jake Wheatley, who is Mayor Ed Gainey’s chief of staff, a U.S. Marine veteran and a former University trustee. Wheatley, who was honorably discharged for medical reasons, received the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and Southwest Asia Service Medal.
“Those who serve not only give above and beyond during their service in the U.S. military, but they continue to serve us throughout their lives,” Dr. Brussalis said. “Our speaker is the epitome of service above self.”
Wheatley, who served in the Marines from 1989-1992, including service in combat during Operation Desert Storm, shared his personal story with a lot of humor. “I like to tell people I was a veteran by mistake,” he began.
He recounted the moment when, as a 17-year-old, he saw a commercial for the U.S. Marines, which he otherwise knew nothing about. Having just had a conversation with his mother about his lack of future plans, he decided at once to call, and within the day, had gone to the recruitment office. One week later, he arrived in San Diego for bootcamp.
“The drill instructors get on the bus, and my whole world changed; my whole perspective on the world changed,” he remembered. He gave his time in the Marine Corps credit for shaping him. “I stand here today a person who understands discipline, who understands order and team work — that experience helped me become who I am today.”
Wheatley continued to interject his story with humor, yet didn’t shy away from the realities of many veteran’s experiences, particularly as they reenter civilian life.
“There was no buffer period for me to reacclimate myself to being a civilian,” he said. He acknowledged that the transition wasn’t easy and he had much to learn about how his behaviors had been shaped by his time in the military.
“We have to support our veterans more when they come back,” he urged the audience. “It can’t just be in words. We need to show them that we care. There is a real need right now.”
Dean of Students Keith Paylo welcomed the opportunity to recognize our veterans once again.
“We never forgot about our veterans,” Paylo said. “This gives us new energy to take care of our veterans and recognize them in every way that we can.” He gave credit to Aryanna Wagner, a Ph.D. student in the Community Engagement program, graduate assistant, and Army veteran, who “reinvigorated” the event, which hadn’t occurred since 2019.
In an interview prior to the ceremony, Wagner said that she saw this event as the ideal opportunity to combine her passion for community engagement and caring for veterans. “From my background working with veterans and being a veteran, when I realized how many are here, I felt like building a community.”
Wagner, who began her military service two months after 9/11 and served in combat in Iraq in 2003, was happy when she met other veterans in her Community Engagement cohort. “We’re here, we’re part of the student body. We add such value to the classroom,” she said.
As the ceremony came to a close, veterans in the audience were invited to come forward to receive a flag lapel pin and a t-shirt that reads “Point Park University Veterans.” Then, Wheatley, Provost Dr. Michael Soto and Dr. Brussalis carried a wreath decorated in flags to the Village Park fountain to display in honor of all veterans, both living and deceased.
Wagner reports that there are currently more than 115 veteran and veteran dependents utilizing veterans benefits at Point Park. Over 50 of those are veterans themselves. Additionally, there are about 600 veterans in our alumni network.