Four University of Miami students transitioning from battlefields to the classroom shared stories about their military experiences and adjustments as university students during the Canes in Uniform event Thursday night in the Student Activities Center.
The panel of American, Singaporean and Israeli UM students – Tyler DerDerian, April Ripley, Marcus Lim and Abir Gitlin – reflected on their military and civilian lives during the event.
“It takes a while to relax and feel safe,” Ripley said. “Through counseling and talking to my peers, I have been able to open up and share my stories.”
Ripley served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years before attending a community college and then transferring to UM. She specialized in encryption and decryption, but experienced difficulties since she was the only woman in her division.
“The fact that I was a woman made me have to go above and beyond the basic level in order to prove my capabilities,” Ripley said. She is set to graduate this spring with a bachelor of arts in music.
Ripley also discussed the difficulties of adjusting to civilian life after leaving the military, a challenge that many former members of the armed forces can relate to.
Lim, a sophomore double majoring in public relations and journalism, said he also had a difficult time adapting to civilian life as a college student.
Prior to attending UM, Lim joined the Singapore Armed Forces where he developed the mentality that everyday is a struggle for survival. His peers in the freshman dorms could not comprehend this mindset, and as a result, Lim felt isolated.
DerDerian, a member of the U.S. Southern Forces Command, enlisted in the army after graduating from UM with a degree in business administration. He is currently pursuing an MBA in finance at UM, and wants to further his studies with a doctoral degree.
With time, the speakers have become more accustomed to civilian life. Still, they miss certain aspects of the military, like the camaraderie — the deep connections they formed with the people in their unit.
Gitlin, the president of Emet Israel, misses the feeling of accomplishment that he gained from waking up each morning and completing missions. He also enjoyed knowing that his service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) helped to protect his family members and his country.
When asked by an audience of students about what they had learned from their experiences, the speakers all agreed that the military instilled a strong work ethic in them.
“You will be surprised by what you can accomplish in a 16-hour day,” DerDerian said.
Ripley concurred, and advised UM students to establish a good work ethic now, because it will carry them far in their lives.
Canes in Uniform was the vision of Becky Taylor, a senior flutist studying instrumental performance and the current vice president of outreach for Emet Israel.
She saw the event as a way for Emet Israel to collaborate with other UM student organizations, and got the Veteran Students Organization (VSO) and the Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO) to help sponsor the event.
“As the vice president of outreach for Emet Israel, I try to connect our club with the UM community,” Taylor said.
Senior Chris Kuhn, a former Navy corpsman and the president of the Veteran Students Organization, wants to help Emet Israel make Canes in Uniform an annual event.
“I feel this event helps show the connections between service members, no matter what differences in nationality, religion, et cetera,” Kuhn said. “We learn from each other in the service, and we continue to learn after.”