Behind Every Good Soldier…
There is a reason why Ave Maria School of Law is considered a top military-friendly school by organizations like Victory Media.
“All of us here are of a mind to honor veterans. We want veterans at our school,” said Kevin Cieply, the president and dean of Ave Maria School of Law.
Military-friendly law school led by a veteran
Cieply, the president of Legatus’ Naples Chapter and a retired Army Judge Advocate General officer, said Ave Law has made a concerted effort to appeal to veterans who are interested in a law career. The law school has done that in various ways, from naming its library the Veterans Memorial Law Library to establishing a resource center and designated parking for veterans.
“We want to attract people who are going to go out into the world and be change-agents and bring faith to the practice of law,” Cieply said, adding that faith-filled veterans are a perfect fit for that mission.
“We’re talking about people who just don’t talk about serving others, serving their communities and serving the nation,” Cieply said. “These are people who have actually proved that that’s what they want to do and that’s what they can do.”
Second-to-none financial investment
Perhaps nothing signifies Ave Law’s commitment to having veterans in the classroom more than the school’s financial investment in their education.
Ave Maria School of Law provides the monetary difference between the government tuition benefits the veterans receive and the school’s tuition costs, meaning essentially that qualified veterans can attend the law school for free, with no limit on the number of veterans who can be accepted into the program.
Under the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, educational institutions such as Ave Law provide additional financial support for veterans whose Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits do not cover all of the tuition and fees at private degree-granting schools. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs matches each dollar of unmet charges the institution agrees to contribute, up to the total cost of tuition and fees.
Ave Maria School of Law funds all eligible veterans who participate in the Yellow Ribbon program at the maximum benefit level, giving them a legal education that is free of tuition and fees.
With law schools across the country, including Ave Law, becoming more selective with students in recent years, Cieply said Ave Maria School of Law has enough room and scholarship money for qualified veteran-students. He noted that the school’s founder, Tom Monaghan, a Marine Corps veteran who is also the founder of Legatus, has committed financial resources to assist veteran-students who are not eligible for or have already used up their benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“By doing these types of things, we hope to attract more veterans to our campus,” Cieply said. “But also, I’m hoping to be a place where we can symbolize that we’re a law school that wants to not only turn out veterans to the practice of law, but also be a place where veterans are honored, where we’re seen as a law school that does the right thing in respecting veterans.”
Current and former military personnel who have attended Ave Maria School of Law said they have seen firsthand the school’s commitment to veterans, which makes them feel that the Naples campus is a perfect fit for them.
Like-minded faculty and principles
“They’re very military-friendly. Many of the faculty have strong military background, and a lot of them understand their students who are serving in the Reserves,” said Nancy Nevarez-Myrick, a 2016 graduate of Ave Law who attended the school while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves as an officer in an airborne tactical communications unit.
Nevarez-Myrick, 31, who is now preparing to enter the U.S. Air Force as an active-duty JAG officer, said she had always thought about attending law school and was attracted to Ave Law when she visited the campus. In addition to having supportive professors and staff members, Nevarez-Myrick said the law school never failed her in making sure that she received all her financial aid benefits.
It also helped that her professors understood her commitments as an Army Reservist and gave her opportunities to make up class work when necessary.
“I felt like my professors understood me and the school understood me when I was giving my time to serve my nation,” Nevarez-Myrick said.
Even non-Catholic veteran feels at home
Joseph Bare, a retired Army veteran who just completed his first year at Ave Law, said he decided to attend the school after visiting the campus and finding that the school’s principles and values matched his own.
“Most veterans you would find share a pretty common value set, and I think you would find a lot of that fits with Ave’s principles, mission and values,” said Bare, 47, who is not Catholic but found himself at home on a campus that he describes as tight-knit and very supportive.
The school has taken great steps to helping veterans and continuing to look for things that the school can do to meet the needs of veterans, to be
that right fit for veterans who are looking for a law school,” said Bare, who would like to practice civil litigation in the area of individual rights and liberties. Bare said he was always interested in the law but delayed that pursuit because he loved his military career.
Exemplary presence of vets
Cieply said veterans such as Nevarez-Myrick and Bare bring maturity, motivation, duty and many other intangibles to the classroom and to the Ave Law community.
“Veterans bring a sense of service. You know they’re willing to do things for others,” Cieply said. “They bring a sense of maturity. They’ve been out in the world and have actually done some things. They’ve had to learn how to continue with life in a stressful environment, and make other parts of their life balanced, which is very difficult at law school.”
Along with the unique insight and good personal examples that the veteran-students bring to Ave Law is a commitment to physical fitness and carving out time during their studies to keep themselves “fit to fight.”
“We love to have that atmosphere in the school where people are being physically fit and at same time engaging 100 percent in their studies,” Cieply said.
When it comes to military service, Ave Law reflects its home state of Florida, which has the third largest population of veterans in the country with 1.5 million veterans, according to the school’s website. The law school currently has 11 veterans in its student body and another four expected to attend classes this fall.
Along with Cieply, two other JAG officers have had leadership roles in the law school. Ave Law’s board of directors also has several veterans, including a two-star admiral.
“It’s obvious they have a very strong commitment to veterans and to military history,” said Bruce Barone, the immediate past president of the Legatus Naples Chapter who is also a founder of the Veterans Memorial Law Library. Barone described the veterans’ presence on campus as a “natural, positive fit.”
“The program is phenomenal. It’s designed to appreciate and honor people who have provided time and their life to military service,” Barone said. “And the program offers a tuition-free legal education, which if you think about it is pretty incredible.” L
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer