A group of students, administrators and alumni gathered at the Writing Center on March 9 to read and discuss literature; however, what makes this group particularly unique is their gathering to speak about veterans and the roles they play in society.
The program, fittingly called “Vets Assemble,” is focused on reading and discussing “Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian” by Don Whitfield. The New York Council for the Humanities is collaborating with the Writing Center to make this program possible.
Sheeba Varkey, a Doctoral Fellow in the English Department at St. John’s, serves as director of the program.
“The Institute for Writing Studies, Dr. Derek Owens and Tom Philipose, associate director of the Writing Center, are collaborating with me on this endeavor,” said Varkey. “St. John’s commitment to Vincentian ideals of service makes this University the ideal place to have conversations about service and the military.”
There have been three sessions since the program’s commencement on Feb. 17, and so far the response has been very positive, according to Varkey. Some students even asked to have the discussions streamed live so that they can participate in them when they can not make it to campus.
Held at 7 p.m., their discussion was based on Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Soldier’s Home.” Topics including the difficulties of assimilating back into civilian life, to combating the stereotypes that come with serving in the military, were all covered, and all stemmed from the literature and personal experiences of veterans and civilians.
There was an undeniable connection within those who served, often speaking of situations that only people who have lived through war could fathom. What was most compelling was the comparing and contrasting of these situations between the different generations of veterans in the group.
The program is not just directed to veterans, as civilians are more than welcome to be a part of the conversation.
“There is a disconnect between military service and civilians who have never served, and this is a good space for conversations on how to bridge that gap,” states Varkey.
St. John’s alumnus John Thampi, class of ‘05, said his experience in the military helped him gain “direction and motivation.” Thampi credits the program in allowing him to not only be a part of the University again, but also in helping him connect with other alumni, faculty members and students who have served in the military, and with war literature.
“The discussions have helped me acknowledge my experiences as a soldier and its impact on who I am now. It’s amazing to read and discuss literature from veteran authors as varied as Ernest Hemingway and modern as Brian Turner and other veterans,” he said. “While I am unique, my experiences are as old as the Trojan wars and connect me to a rich legacy, before this group.”