October 22, 2008 – Right after coming back from Athens for the launch of MTV Greece, I went straight to Washington, D.C. — a few hours’ train ride from New York’s Penn Station — for my next assignment. I was excited. It was my first time ever to D.C., and, most importantly, it was my first time ever meeting an actual student veteran.
Graham Palter is a 24-year-old freshman at George Washington University and a veteran of the war in Iraq. Seeking adventure, he joined the Marine Corps at 19 — and he got exactly what he asked for, and then some. While his fellow students at GWU were firing machine guns and blowing things up on their PlayStations, Graham was serving three deployments in Iraq.
Graham is six years older than his fellow freshmen, and six years can be a big gap — add on the fact that Graham served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps and has seen first-hand combat in the most hostile territories of Iraq, and that gap gets a lot wider.
Nevertheless, Graham is undeterred and determined to finish his degree in international affairs and continue to learn Arabic — two things which he believes will help him become a better soldier when he re-enlists after graduation. While his fellow freshmen are out drinking at the bar, clubbing until late and enjoying the fruits of university life, Graham admits he spends most of his evenings at his apartment with his head in his books, thankful he isn’t living with a bunch of partying 18-year-olds. Graham finds himself gravitating to other fellow veterans on campus.
Having spent the day with the students of GWU, I can say that they are fascinated with Graham and the other veterans. While we were filming our piece, a young hipster freshman came over to introduce himself, and for a good 15 minutes asked Graham a bunch of questions about everything from his tattoos, student life, the campus and his university courses, to life in the Marines, his time in Iraq and, of course, music. No doubt, it wasn’t the easiest or most fluid conversation I’d ever heard, but for Graham it was a good start to fitting into university life.
Click here to watch Graham’s story.