People and Community University

University salutes veterans for holiday and year-round

A Veterans Appreciation Day event this Friday at the Coral Gables Campus honors those who have served our country and demonstrates the gratitude the University community has for veteran students.
Veterans Rally Point Alumni Weekend and Homecoming - 2023 Friday, October 27, 2023 Photographer: Matt Rice for University of Miami
Jon Baldessari, right, hosted the Veterans Rally Point event at the Veterans Resource Center during Alumni Weekend and Homecoming celebrations last month. Photo: Matt Rice for University of Miami

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Jon Baldessari will honor his father who served in the Korean War and join a vast number of families around the country remembering loved ones who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

In addition, Baldessari, the inaugural director of the University of Miami’s newly commissioned Veterans Resource Center, also will think about a first cousin, a U.S. Marine who just finished a 30-year career that included significant deployment to battle zones in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The cousin is an energetic advocate for improving resources for surviving veterans, and Baldessari likely will find solace knowing that the new resource center is supporting the academic and professional success of hundreds of student veterans associated with the University of Miami.

“The center has truly helped fast-forward our efforts,” said Baldessari. “It’s been a very brisk time meeting and understanding all the things going on related to studentveterans’ services,” he added.

“In the past, while there were efforts at mentoring and supporting veterans through faculty and friends, those efforts were not coordinated campus-wide,” he continued “Now that we’re in one place, we’re able to weave things together, better tell the story, and meet the needs of our student veterans.”  

As director of the center, Baldessari’s responsibilities include overseeing programs and initiatives for veteran and military-connected students. Additionally, he advises the Veteran Students Organization (VSO), which is located next door to the center at UC2400H in the Student Village on the second floor of the Whitten University Center.

Anthony Ustariz
Anthony Ustariz

A Veterans Day Appreciation event is scheduled for Friday morning at the UC Rock Plaza on the Coral Gables Campus, and Anthony Ustariz, VSO president, will be among the speakers.

“Veterans Day honors everyone who has served and especially those who have fought and sacrificed for freedom and for choice,” said Ustariz.

Born and raised in Miami, Ustariz enlisted in the military in 2016 and served for four years, receiving training in tactical aircraft maintenance and crash recovery. While he had always dreamed of attending the University, he knew his parents, both immigrants, couldn’t afford the costs.

Then Ustariz learned of the Yellow Ribbon Program, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program that helps pay for higher out-of-state, private school, foreign school, or graduate school tuition and fees. He met the criteria for active-duty service and earned the financial support.

“My time here has been incredible, and on Friday I’ll certainly be expressing my gratitude for all the support I’ve received,” said Ustariz, who is scheduled to graduate in December and plans to go to law school.

According to Ustariz, his time in military active service gave him the direction and experience he was looking for and taught him a number of important lessons.

“In the military you have people leaving all the time and new people coming in—and you want to set them up for success,” Ustariz noted. Stepping up to lead the VSO was his way of paying it forward and helping to ensure the organization remains in good hands.

The Veterans Appreciation Day event also will include a keynote speaker from Mission United, a United Way program that seeks to connect veterans with community services beyond those offered by the VA. Other community partners also will be in attendance, Baldessari pointed out.

Already recognized by U.S. Veterans Magazine as a “Top Veterans-Friendly School” and by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Colleges for Veterans,” the University recently earned a spot on the Military Support list with Colleges of Distinction.

“Recognition in these military friendly circles is certainly something that potential students or veterans who have dependents might be looking at when making their educational decisions,” Baldessari said. “When we launched the center, it wasn’t one of our first 100 priorities, but it was something we wanted to pay attention to as a way for folks to know more about the center.”

While conflicts globally appear to be escalating, increasing the possibility of being called to duty in a conflict zone, Baldessari said the event Friday is more focused on the individual.

“We’re focused on that aspect of gratitude for the individual. Sometimes at the 30,000-foot political level, you can lose touch with the reality of the day-to-day for our student veterans,” he said.

Attendees at the Friday event can fill out and sign thank-you or remembrance cards for friends or family members who serve or have served in the armed forces.