SANFORD - Standing in front of her closet filled only with T-shirts, jeans and military attire, Jessica Gonzalez suddenly realized she had no idea what to wear for a job interview. For years, fashion wasn't even a concern -- as a soldier in the U.S. Army, her clothes were prescribed -- but now she was returning to civilian life, where she had lost touch with expectations and trends.
She reached out to a friend who had successfully made the transition and urged Gonzalez to understand the organizational culture, research the company's dress code and invest in a few key fashion pieces that would work in just about any situation. Moving forward by asking for advice and assistance from others is a lesson she embraced.
Now, the military veteran enjoys a successful career as Human Resources Director for Central Carolina Community College and recounted her story on Nov. 9 at the college's annual Veterans Day commemoration.
"Transitioning from the military to civilian life can be extremely overwhelming -- not only professionally and emotionally, but also when it comes to simple tasks," she told her audience. "It is essential to reach out to those who have gone before you to learn from their experiences."
Providing valuable insight and advice was just part of this commemoration at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic & Conference Center. After CCCC President Dr. Lisa M. Chapman welcomed guests, the Lee County High School JROTC presented colors and the National Anthem was performed by vocalist Jacob Barton and members of the Lee County Community Orchestra, another speaker gave some perspectives on the concept of glory and how that might apply to veterans.
Dan Gurley, a U.S. Air Force veteran and deputy chief of staff to the speaker of the state House of Representatives, recalled how his uncle suffered frostbite to his feet while a member of the military stationed in Greenland. Despite that injury, severe enough to be classified as a partial disability, his uncle returned home to drive a truck for more than 30 years. It was a job that required constant use of his feet, but he never complained.
"If you thought that it was something that belonged to members of the military, and you could make a case for that, then this is somebody that ought to have glory around him."
About 75 members of the college and broader community attended this year's celebration, and all veterans in the audience were honored. Karmisha Hernandez Luciano, a U.S. Army veteran and assistant director for the college's Veterans Upward Bound, asked veterans from each branch of military service to stand as a group and be recognized as musicians performed their organization's anthem during a short medley.
CCCC's celebration is held every year to commemorate Veterans Day, a national holiday that began in 1938 as Armistice Day to honor the end of World War I. After two later global conflicts, World War II and the Korean War, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day to honor veterans of all wars.
Jennifer Dillon, CCCC's Director of Veterans Upward Bound and Military Initiatives, says it's important for the college to remember all who served in the military and remind veterans how the college can assist them in their educational journey, before and after their transition back to civilian society.
And there was another reason. Before the commemoration began, Dillon noted the diverse audience taking their seats, from young college students and older veterans, people of all kinds representing many different demographic groups. "It's important to feel camaraderie again," she said. "All of us together, not just as a community college and as a community, but each of us individually."
Jessica Gonzalez, CCCC Director of Human Resources and U.S. Army veteran, was guest speaker at the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration.
Dan Gurley, a U.S. Air Force veteran and deputy chief of staff to the speaker of the state House of Representatives, was keynote speaker at the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration.
Dr. Lisa M. Chapman, CCCC President, speaks at the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration.
Musicians for the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration were Vocalist Jacob Barton and members of the Lee County Community Orchestra.
The Lee County High School JROTC participated in the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration.
Karmisha Hernandez Luciano, Assistant Director of the Veterans Upward Bound program and U.S. Army veteran, recognized veterans at the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration.
Jennifer Dillon, CCCC's Director of Veterans Upward Bound and Military Initiatives, speaks at the CCCC Veterans Day commemoration.