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Veteran proves it’s never too late to bring home that college diploma

November 11, 2011

By Samantha Tack ’12

Dr. Paul Apodaca, left, with U.S. Army veteran Joseph Schwallie '11, who returned to Chapman University to complete his bachelor's degree.

It was a winding route, one that shifted through war, work and life, but 50 years after he first entered college, U.S. Army veteran Joseph Schwallie has a college degree in hand.

Schwallie, 68, celebrates this Veteran’s Day with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chapman University. Among his motivations for returning to school was to be a role model for younger veterans, said Schwallie, who volunteers as a mentor at Combat Veterans Court.

 “I am working with veterans and I want to gain a better insight from the other students and to set a better example as a college graduate to show the veterans there is something to shoot for,” Schwallie said.

The veteran started college in 1961 at Orange Coast College and transferred to California State University, Fullerton. His education was interrupted when he was drafted into the army in 1967 to serve in the Vietnam War. When he returned, he began work as a salesman in the wholesale building materials industry. Hard at work with his sales territory expanding, Schwallie didn’t have much time to take on school again.

Schwallie made two previous attempts at going back to school. He attended Chapman from 1972-1973 and returned in 1983, but scheduling complications with classes got in the way.

When his work in sales slowed, Schwallie decided it was the right time to finish his degree. After a conference meeting in the Department of Sociology, Paul Apodaca, Ph.D., associate professor, stepped up to be his advisor. Dr. Apodaca constantly gave him the encouragement he needed to pursue and complete his degree, said Schwallie.

“He faced a few disappointments as we came to realize he had more classes to complete than he thought,” said Dr. Apodaca. “He faced this effort with courteousness and humility coupled with determination and courage.”

He even enjoyed traditional college life, attending plays, concerts, art exhibitions and football games. He also found a group of veterans from Chapman that he would meet up with to discuss things in common.

For the future. the City of Orange resident plans to continue with his Chapman activities and his volunteer work at the Combat Veterans Center, where he serves as a listener for veterans who have committed a misdemeanor or felony. The help offered at this organization is similar to the help he received when he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, he said. His Chapman experience has strengthened his skills in that service, he said.

“The help I received from veterans after the Vietnam War was terrific, and I’d like to help others in the same position,” said Schwallie. “Paul’s encouragement and hanging out with the younger crowd has really helped me as a mentor.”

Schwallie also credits the guidance and help of his supportive wife, Laurel, neighbor, Hank Koerper, and Chapman’s Carolyn Dunlavy, academic program specialist, and Jan McCuen, associate registrar.

He plans to walk in the graduation ceremony in spring 2012, truly capping off a journey begun 50 years ago.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lara permalink
    November 12, 2011 7:56 pm

    Congratulations Joseph, for your service and your sacrifice all these years. As a Veteran myself, of the Gulf War and the Iraq War, as well as an older returning student, I too understand the struggles of retuning to school and finishing later in life with a family. But, when one adds the physical as well as psychological injuries of war, life and school becomes a bit more complicated. I commend you for your courage as well as your dedication.

    Lara McKinley Sociology w/ Emphasis Social Work “13”

  2. Susan permalink
    November 14, 2011 12:43 pm

    Joe, seeing you every Sunday makes my heart smile! You constantly serve as a mentor, whether you are aware of it or not. Much love to you.

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