The 2021 National American Legion College class of 51 students graduated Friday morning during a ceremony in the National Executive Committee Room on the fourth floor at National Headquarters in Indianapolis. Graduation got underway with reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance followed by The American Legion Preamble, which Past National Commander and Legion College Chancellor David Rehbein said, “When you stand in this room and recite that Preamble and think about all of the groups, all of the business and the issues that have been discussed and decided following the recitation of that Preamble … it just means a little more in this room.
“You’re leaving here I hope equipped to go home and provide leadership in your posts, in your districts, in your departments. And one day for this national organization,” Rehbein continued. “You have one final charge. It’s your job to go home and help identify the candidates that need to come to National Legion College. You know what Legion College is about. You know who would benefit most from participating here. So congratulations on being selected, congratulations on surviving, congratulations on graduating.”
American Legion Department of Tennessee First District Commander Todd McKinley retired from the U.S. Army after serving 20 years. “Whenever I came home I was treated with complete respect because of those who served before me and because of organizations like The American Legion,” he said. “When I retired I got active in The American Legion .. the best way I think to serve our veterans is to get involved with organizations like this.” McKinley wanted to attend Legion College “to learn as much as I can about the organization to better lead it and of course at the same time to help do its mission, which is to help veterans and their families, and our community, state and nation.”
When asked what he has most enjoyed about the program, McKinley said, “being able to meet all the different people and learning about their experiences and learning from their knowledge, and of course being able to apply that to the issues and problems that maybe we have in our own departments, our own posts.”
Another challenge given to Legion College students upon graduation is to take the knowledge they learned and share it with Legionnaires at every level of their department. This was a reason Jared Flammond, Department of Montana sergeant-at-arms, wanted to attend Legion College.
“A lot of the younger veterans that are in my department, they don’t really understand what the Legion is all about,” he said. “A lot of our smaller posts don’t really get the chance to go to department-level meetings, so by coming to training like this, I can bring that back to my community where I can help teach some of those smaller posts, like how the Legion is run and some of the programs that we do have.”
During Legion College, the 51 students are assigned to five districts where they meet to write a resolution, resolve a real-life post scenario conflict, share membership and training best practices, and more. And each district has a facilitator that was a Legion College graduate – Department of Missouri Adjutant Lowry Finley-Jackson served as District 4’s facilitator, a role she has served in for seven Legion College sessions. To honor her dedication and service, Rehbein presented Finley-Jackson with a certificate of appreciation.
“There are a lot of lessons presented in this (NEC) room, but a lot of the really hard work goes on in those district rooms and it’s because of the facilitators that that work gets done,” Rehbein said. “It’s difficult, sometimes it’s impossible, to adequately thank a person for what they’ve done, for the effort that they’ve given, for the work that they’ve put in, for the effect that they’ve had on people’s lives.” Rehbein shared that Finley-Jackson has had an influence on 70 Legion College graduates in her role as a facilitator over the years. “Lowry, thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“I did not expect this, and for anyone who knows me knows I’m never lost for words. At this point I am. Thank you so much; it has been my pleasure to serve as a facilitator,” said Finley-Jackson, who shared that this was her last class in effort to give other Legionnaires a chance to facilitate. What has kept her coming back for seven classes is “the camaraderie that you get from being a facilitator and watching people evolve as they come through the program.”