Watch the 2021 State of SVA
Hi, I’m Jared Lyon. It is my honor to officially welcome you to your annual National Conference. We have many incredible experiences for you to partake in over the coming days, and though it might look a little different than in the past, we are excited for you to participate. Let’s talk about what SVA accomplished during this challenging year, and where SVA is heading in 2021. Today I appear before you humbly, as your National President and CEO. I’ve been very privileged to see where SVA started, and more importantly, I’m eager to tell you where we’re going.
There are four key opportunities that SVA provides and is always improving. I want to highlight these throughout this presentation, and explain how your National Headquarters team is working to grow these core activities. You’re about to experience the first of these opportunities and kick off this year the right way by attending our 13th annual NatCon. Whether you’re brand new to SVA or are a seasoned NatCon veteran, you’re about to once again find out how much everybody has to gain from this experience.
But NatCon is just the beginning. Throughout the year, we invite you to participate in advocacy, chapter training, and personal leadership development. Before I go any further, there are multiple things going on in the world that we should take a moment to acknowledge and understand. This past year was a hard one—maybe one of the hardest many of us will ever know. And while we’re all doing what we can to cope with the pandemic as best as possible, there’s no denying how challenging it makes each day. For those of you who have lost loved ones, my heart truly breaks. Sometimes all we can do is be there for each other.
Up and down the West Coast, fires destroyed homes, lives, and communities. This summer, millions of people protested in the streets, calling for racial justice in response to systemic racism in this country, and sparked by the tragic murder of George Floyd and so many others. SVA seeks to be one of the most diverse and inclusive organizations in America, and I know every one of us has the ability to bring about the change this nation so desperately needs. Later this year, we will announce the formal launch of the SVA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council, and a Racial Justice Task Force, to positively impact every activity that we do.
And as if 2020 wasn’t hard enough, 2021 began with acts of domestic terrorism, as seditionists sought to carry out an insurrection on January 6th against the duly elected Biden-Harris administration. There is no place in a free society for those who wish to employ violence to crush the will of the people, and attempt to alter the outcome of fair and free elections. As we have with every administration before this one, we will continue to work closely with members of all political parties.
Through all of those national challenges, 2020 was the most successful year in SVA history, and it is about to be eclipsed by 2021. You are a part of something very special—a national network of more than 1,500 chapters that impact the lives of millions of veterans.
All of that starts here and now, at your 13th annual SVA National Conference, or as we affectionately call it, NatCon. As the largest national gathering of student veterans in the country, NatCon is the premier annual event for those seeking to connect with student veterans, advocates, thought leaders, and stakeholders, and supporters in higher education.
At NatCon you have the opportunity to learn about topics such as campus engagement and chapter management. You’ll get a chance to connect with your peers, and maybe even land an internship or a job for after graduation through our network of partners. But most important of all, you will decide together with your peers what “Leading Forward Together” truly means.
Let’s all take a virtual look around at everybody—this is the most diverse audience of attendees ever, and that’s no surprise since it’s reflective of who SVA is across the country. Compared to all students in higher education, student veterans tend to be older than traditional students; we are more likely to be to be parents, black or Hispanic, have a disability, and just about any other measure of diversity that you can think of. We’re extremely proud to announce that currently, more than half of our Chapter Leaders are women.
With so many different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking, it’s no wonder that student veterans vastly outperform their peers in just about any area of society.
Your participation in NatCon is the first step, as those of you who have been involved with SVA before are already aware. Different from previous years, we’ve made this NatCon even more accessible, so as many student veterans as possible can participate. Try your best to be a part of as much of the experience as you can because the whole conference is built around delivering you the maximum potential to grow, if you’re willing to engage fully.
For those of you who are at NatCon for the first time, I welcome you especially. You are the up-and-coming leaders of your chapter, and this country.
When you’re ready to take your leadership to our nation’s lawmakers, we’ll be right there with you during Washington Week. Each March, the SVA policy and advocacy priorities are formally published through a series of events around Capitol Hill.
In 2020, I delivered a comprehensive testimony built upon the ideas and issues student veterans shared with us throughout the year. Members from the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs listened and engaged with us about these topics. Student veterans from all across the country advocated for their ideas, such as Fatima Jaghoori from Kansas State University who met with Senate Veteran Affairs Committee Ranking Member, Senator Moran to talk about issues impacting her Chapter. You may not know it, but you have a dedicated team of government affairs professionals who work on your behalf, and they are some of the best in the country at what they do.
Soon after that testimony last spring, the world was turned upside down. When the pandemic hit, many of you wondered what would happen to your GI Bill benefits. Within hours, your Government Affairs team worked with congressional committees and a large coalition of veteran organizations to propose a bill ensuring a switch to virtual learning would not disrupt your benefits.
In 2021, we are focusing on the GI Bill as the ‘front door’ to the VA. Typically, using the GI Bill is one of the first interactions a newly transitioned veteran will have with VA in the universe of post-service benefits and programs. This means a seamless GI Bill process is key to establishing trust and confidence with every veteran they serve. We want to make that first interaction an exceptional one.
We rely on your input to make change a reality; this year, we will introduce a policy submission portal, giving you access to a user-friendly option for sending your federal policy ideas to the National Headquarters to be considered for our annual policy priorities presented to congress.
Most important of all, though, is for you to have all the tools and resources you need to run a successful and sustainable chapter. For more than a decade we have been collecting and refining tactics to provide you with the collective knowledge of all the student veterans who came before you. This culminated on what we call the “Chapter Guide,” a comprehensive manual that distills the many insights we’ve gained over time. This tome of magic is fully available at studentveterans.org, and can be viewed section-by-section on the site. It is also available for download in its entirety as a PDF.
The Chapter Guide is your textbook for the SVA chapter training, which we refer to as Regional Summits. These take place live in different cities every summer, and can also be done online at your own pace at any time of the year. Our goal for all 1,500+ chapters is that each one is known as one of the top student organizations on campus. To achieve this requires serious dedication, and a plan to ensure continuity between each e-board, but the knowledge is there for you if you’re willing to take it.
This past year our Regional Summits were taught virtually, so they were accessible to all current and upcoming chapter leaders. Looking ahead, our goal is to have 100% of all chapter leaders participate in this training. It is not enough for just the President of each chapter to attend—I strongly encourage all officers or executive board members to participate at a minimum, as well as up and coming potential leaders. To be successful in this each year requires every one of you to make a plan to take advantage of this training.
As you and others attend Regional Summits, you will gain skills and knowledge, which will benefit you for years to come. You also have the chance to network with student veterans just like you at nearby colleges and universities, and so much more.
For those of you looking to take your personal leadership skills to the next level, I encourage you to apply to the Leadership Institute, an immersive program that prepares you to affect change stretching beyond your chapter and campus. SVA Alumni Mentors facilitate participants through a foundational leadership experience focused on identifying your core values while honing individual leadership skills. Selected through a competitive application process, those who attend this incredible experience get a chance to build a deep understanding of how to be an effective leader, while also developing close personal connections with your peers.
This year, we are set to expand the number of participants, while also increasing the number of mentors to ensure our fellows receive the best possible coaching. The application will continue to be equally competitive, but with greater participation from student veterans nationwide.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible organizations who help us to make everything we do as part of SVA possible. We are so grateful to all of our partners who support our work. I want to especially thank Raytheon Technologies for being the presenting sponsor of this event, and for all of the incredible partners who covered the cost of all of our student registrations for NatCon this year.
Imagine the four opportunities I talked about as buckets. We have built them, but it’s up to you to fill them. SVA exists for you, and it is not meant to be a spectator sport. Immerse yourself in this experience and all that SVA has to offer. “Leading Forward Together” starts with you. Keep us updated on how you’re doing, and your successes. We are genuinely your biggest fans.
It is always my distinct honor to connect with you and your SVA chapter. You’re always welcome to reach out to our team or me personally if we can ever serve you better. Enjoy your upcoming break-out session and the rest of NatCon. I’m excited for us to lead forward together.