“I moved 11 times growing up, and I’m 20 years old,” says Victoria Smith, the daughter of a Marine Corps colonel. Though not a veteran herself, her lifelong affinity with the military and her dedicated work on behalf of veterans led to her becoming president of the Student Veterans Association at Saint Michael’s this year.
She describes living the common military experience of having “no roots anywhere,” save in military culture itself (except for a bit in Vermont where her grandma on her mom’s side still lives.)
“My dad’s father was a Marine general and my uncle is a Marine general … so it’s kind of a lineage thing,” she says, adding that her brother has enlisted in the Marines. “I’m extremely proud of him, and will watch him graduate boot camp in December,” she says.
Stops for her family through her life have included Virginia, Hawaii, New England, North Carolina, the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, Marine Barracks, Washington DC, and, for her high school senior year, in Stuttgart, Germany.
While living in the nation’s capital during her middle school years, she met Presidents Bush and Obama, and her family members were friendly neighbors with the family of General Joseph Dunford ’77, whose son even once baby-sat for her and her siblings during a Marine ball.
Victoria has known the stress of her warrior dad being away for risky extended deployments to Afghanistan, Africa and Iraq, and says she has been grateful that the Saint Michael’s counseling office is so willing and ready to listen and let her or others process about such issues or their associated anxieties if ever they feel the need.
When she started looking for colleges from Germany her senior year, she says, “I was looking for a place I could really be comfortable, a small school.” Having spent summers in Vermont with her family and “knowing General Dunford came from here” were big factors in Victoria’s decision.
She attended an Accepted Students Day, “and I said, ‘this feels like the right place,’” she recalls. Her college benefits include the Post-9/11 GI Bill through her father, along with other smaller scholarships from several military groups.
“I want to be a Foreign Service officer,” says Victoria, who is majoring in international relations in the College’s Honors Program and has done an internship with the U.S. Africa Command in Germany. Recently during the fall semester 2016, she presented to the Saint Michael’s Trustees about her experiences.
“I love learning and knowledge and ideas, and always look forward to class discussions,” she says. For her, having Ken O’Connell present as coordinator of student veteran and military family services, thanks to alumni support, provides her and other military-affiliates “peace of mind, just knowing someone here has a clue of what I’ve been through. It’s his job to check in and make sure things are OK.” She also works well with active student-veteran Chris Boutin, who she calls a “can-do person,” and other SVA members.
“Leadership here, I think, is much more cooperative leadership as opposed to a strict chain of command in the military,” she says. That might sometimes feel relatively inefficient, but the elements of effective leadership are the same in both models, she says. “In the military or at St. Mike’s, you look out for other people -- I don’t know if the world in general is like that. But St. Mike’s cares that you care about the people around you and think about who you’re responsible for.”
“My friends here are my campus family, and they know that,” she says. “I’ve developed that intense desire to be there for them in our friendships …. I have made my own platoon, you might say.”
She and others in the SVA, although from varied military backgrounds or affiliations and numbering close to 20, also think of themselves as a united group who support one another too -- including National Guard members from nearby bases who are students through scholarships.
“We’re continuing to work to establish those connections,” she says. “I want to be able to be there for someone else coming in with a military experience, just as others were for me. I’m very protective – that’s another military trait.” She adds that through her close friendships and affiliations, both the military camaraderie and beyond, “My definition of love has been enriched by being at St. Mike’s.”