Story By Tucker Massey
Photos Contributed By ASVA
On Nov. 11, student veterans will come to the Hotel at Auburn University dressed to the nines for the Auburn Student Veteran Association’s annual gala. While there will be food and fun, the night is much more than that for those in attendance.
Drew Lufkin, retired Army veteran and president of ASVA, said that the night is a military-style ball and a reward for the hard work student veterans put in throughout the school year.
During the gala, ASVA recognizes people and groups who, according to Lufkin, “go above and beyond for not only [ASVA], but veterans as well.”
Keynote speakers also speak during the night and “a healthy amount of scholarships” are awarded.
“A lot of veterans come here, and they have families and are older, more mature,” Lufkin said. “They have a lot more requirements, [so] they need to better manage their time.”
Lufkin said that these veterans often come in and handle the pressure of balancing school, family and other priorities much better than the average college student and, for that, they deserve the recognition they receive at the gala.
“With young families, [they’re] married, having to pay all the bills, having to do school, across the board, they’re performing better than the average incoming freshman,” Lufkin said. “So, that’s something we want to highlight. We want to reward people saying, ‘Hey, you know what? You are making it happen, you are getting it done.’ That is the main purpose of the gala.”
While scholarships are often awarded through the University, ASVA scholarships are not and are paid out directly to the recipient so that they can use the money in ways that benefit them outside of their schooling.
Lufkin provided his own story as an example of the benefit of these scholarships. During his freshman year in 2016, he was awarded a $1,000 scholarship. He and his wife immediately went and bought $500 worth of diapers with the money.
“We’ve got veterans who are outperforming [other students], most of them are living at or below the poverty level, so we’re trying to do everything we can to try and help them,” Lufkin said. “Plus, they’re deserving of it because it’s not just, ‘Hey, I’m asking for a handout,’ It’s, ‘Hey, I’m working my tail off, and I’m getting results and making this happen, and I just need a bit of help to get to the finish line.’”
Curtis Pippin, National Guard medic and program coordinator for Auburn University’s Veteran Resource Center, said the gala is a special night for all involved and goes beyond awarding scholarships.
“The gala is more than just, ‘Here’s your scholarships. Let’s go out and get a few drinks or whatever.’ It is a night of camaraderie and fellowship and recognition of the unique characteristics that the veteran population brings to our community,” Pippin said.
The gala, in Pippin’s words, is a celebration of these student veterans not only by the veteran community but also by community members and leaders who express a deep gratitude for the role veterans play in society.
Boone Bramwell, vice president of ASVA and retired Marine, said that ASVA succeeded in providing the camaraderie that Pippin spoke of, especially in his experience with the group.
“When I first got out of the military, I was very strayed from where I was,” Bramwell said. “I went from being in uniform to, two weeks later, sitting in a classroom. I might as well have been on Mars. My first year in college was very rough. [Then] I started networking with other veterans. I started laying the foundations that would be a pathway for success. The ASVA, to me, is a family that sticks together.”
Bramwell said that upon discovering ASVA, his worries and struggles with transitioning back to civilian life were alleviated because he had found people who understood him and the transition he was dealing with. ASVA provided a sort of fellowship for him, and he believed it did for many others as well.
The camaraderie developed through ASVA is reflected in the annual gala. Bramwell said the gala was a great night of reflection and recognition and that he enjoyed being able to be part of an event that gives back to those who have served and continue to give much of their time to their families and school.
This marks the gala’s sixth year. As it went with many events, the pandemic stifled this gala for a couple of years, but Lufkin said it is back on track.
Lufkin said since the gala’s inception, $42,000 in scholarships have been awarded to hard-working, dedicated and deserving student veterans.
“It’s been able to recognize a lot of people who have really hauled a lot of mail for veterans,” Lufkin said. “And it has showed a lot of veterans that this is a community that will stand behind you and support you.”
ASVA works year-round to help assist student veterans and show them the resources available to them; guide them forward in their college careers; and be a place of comfort and assurance in a sometimes tumultuous time in their lives.
“If you’re a veteran and you don’t know where to go; if you don’t know where your friends are; if you don’t know what resources you need; if you need help with anything, come see us,” Lufkin said. “I don’t even care if you’re a student at Auburn, you come see us, and we can help you.”