Study hard. Look out for your tribe. Take oaths in your life. Look for ways to give back.
These are the words of advice offered by Brandy Mai to students at LSMSA during the annual Veterans Day ceremony held Thursday, Nov. 9, in Treen Auditorium.
“These are the things that will make this country thrive,” said Mai, a member of the LSMSA Class of 1997. “These are the ways to honor the service members who protected and defended. These are the things that will continue to make us the greatest nation on Earth.”
Mai left the halls of LSMSA in 1997, and she is also a veteran of the United States Army.
“My path from the Louisiana School to the military to where I am today is all about finding a tribe,” she said. “Twice in my life I found a tribe. Once when I got the camouflage and the other when I walked these halls.”
Twenty years ago, Mai graduated from LSMSA and really did not have a direction. She did not know what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“My grandfather was a three-war veteran, and my mother was an Army veteran, so there was a desire to enlist, but I really wanted to try college before I raised my right hand,” she said. “I went to Scholars for a year while I pondered the decision to serve my country, but ultimately at the end of that first year, I knew my calling.”
In 1998, she took an oath to protect and defend this nation and constitution as a photojournalist in the U.S. Army. She entered basic training at Fort Jackson as one of the first classes where females were integrated with males for training. Everything the guys did, she did.
“It pushed me to break through barriers and prove that I could be all that I could be,” she said.
Following nine weeks of basic training, Mai went to Fort Meade Maryland for photojournalism and public affairs school. For a girl from south Louisiana, that was an adventure.
“When I signed in on Jan. 3, there was several feet of snow on the ground,” she said. ‘I had never even seen snow that stuck to the ground. I thought surely they won’t make us run in this. I was wrong.”
Mai served this country for just a few short years before she left the service to raise her family, which includes four children. While her family has always been the most important thing to her, she had a hard time leaving the service. It was the place she found her tribe, much like the one she had found at LSMSA.
“You may hear mention that veterans have a hard time transitioning when they leave the service, and that is very true,” said Mai. “Part of that, at least for me, is the loss of a tribe that they are not able to find again.
“I struggled when I left the uniform, but I found solace by taking a vow with myself to always find ways to give back to veterans and men and women in uniform.”
Throughout her career, Mai has gravitated toward positions that are connected to military and government. Even when she didn’t have those positions, she volunteered her time and skills to give back to that community.
She treated that vow to herself and her brothers in arms just as seriously as she treated her oath to protect and defend.
Mai encouraged those attending the ceremony to make a vow to themselves, an oath to their life’s choices, and give those choices purpose and meaning that will help them to stick by the choices.
“Whether it is school, college, the military, family, or any job you have that helps you get by, take pride in it and protect it,” she said. “Even if your path is an unconventional one where you change your mind a million times, stay committed to your life choices. It will all pan out.
“When you find a tribe, stick by them.”
Four other veterans were also recognized during the ceremony. They were Capt. Cregg Brundige, Rachel Hayes, LCDR Aaron Johnson and Capt. John Garland Williams.
“This ceremony began in 1986 by then-executive director Dr. Richard Brown, who served in the National Guard,” said Amy Liu, a senior from Alexandria and the president of the Student Government Organization. “He believed that these ceremonies offered a way for the student body to acknowledge our military men and women and their families for their service to the United States.”