Are you ready?
That was the question posed to the 2017 American Legion College class by National Commander Denise H. Rohan Friday morning, prior to the start of their graduation in the National Executive Committee Room at National Headquarters in Indianapolis.
“Are you ready to share your experiences, your talents and the knowledge you gained here this week?” she asked. “Are you ready to mentor the future leaders of this great American Legion Family? Are you ready to be ambassadors of The American Legion and know that everywhere you go, any time you are wearing The American Legion emblem, people will be looking at you as heroes? And they will be expecting you to set an example. Are you ready to be part of a special group of men and women who are so proud to call themselves National American Legion College alumni?”
All 55 students applauded in their answer to Rohan that they were ready to leave Indianapolis with a set of new leadership skills and tools and share them with their posts, districts and departments.
“I want to go back and inspire other Legionnaires. And also be able to mentor them,” said Valerie Scheuering of Post 37 in Nevada.
“The comradeship we have developed this week has been fantastic,” said Thomas Schreck of Post 1830 in New York. “With the interchange of all the different ideas, we’ve all picked up something from everybody that will help us in going back and helping our fellow veterans and Legionnaires in our hometown.”
“I didn’t know much about Legion College before coming here,” said Paul Edwards of Post 255 in Minnesota. “My mentor strongly suggested that I come. The path before me was not clear. After attending Legion College, I still don’t know exactly where my path is leading but I do know it’s going the right way.”
As the five districts's participants lined up to accept their diploma from Rohan and receive their Legion College pin from Past National Commander and Legion College Chancellor Dave Rehbein, the district leaders spoke a few words about their group and about their hope for all 55 of the students.
“It is amazing to watch 55 Legionnaires come together for the sole purpose of evolving themselves to be a strong force and agents of change,” said Joshua Clement, a 2015 Legion College graduate and member of Post 2 in Montana. “These Legionnaires understand the value of being a grassroots organization and know how it takes drive and effort to continue to grow us. They are all change agents. Everyone in District 1 is ready to lead up and continue to purple up to make this organization grow. Because we are The American Legion.”
Mick Sobczak, a 2015 Legion College graduate from California, reminded the class that “this (Legion College) pin that you are receiving today will only mean something if you use it. And in The American Legion, it’s the veteran we serve who matters the most.”
More than 900 Legionnaires have graduated from American Legion College in the past 18 years, and over the course of that time the program’s curriculum has evolved to focus more on leadership development. Deanna Hurless of Post 14 in Wyoming has been looking forward to attending the program to gain more leadership tools and knowledge and this past week she’s “learned a lot,” she said. “Now I need to pass it forward. Because that’s the reason we are here ... to pass it forward.”
Hurless has only been a member of The American Legion for nine years because she didn’t know about the organization, as there wasn’t a presence in the community where she grew up and was never informed about the organization upon her military discharge in 1983. But once becoming a member of Post 14, she hit the ground running.
“The first time I read the preamble it was very emotional for me because of how much it meant to me. I believe in everything it says,” Hurless said. “The American Legion is definitely a passion of mine. I believe in what we’re here for – the four pillars.”