UTC student navigates college as a veteran
A local Navy veteran talks about navigating college life after military service.
When you think of veterans you don't usually think of college students, but Melissa Speed is a college student navigating life after active duty in the military.
Speed calls Chattanooga home. It's where she's lived most of her life.
After a few years in the military she is back home to continue her journey serving others.
"I'm going to school for free now,” Melissa said. “Which is amazing."
She is a student at UTC finishing up her accounting degree.
She's not a traditional student, because this is a second act for her.
"My boot camp picture from 2008," Melissa said as she pointed to herself in a picture.
Melissa served in the U.S. Navy for seven years.
During her time on active duty, she earned one of her most prized awards.
It may not look like a much to a civilian. It’s a light blue and yellow striped ribbon, and Melissa really worked for it.
"The military outstanding volunteer service award,” she explained. “I had over 400 hours of volunteer service."
After serving in the military she decided she isn’t done giving to others.
Melissa decided when she left active duty she wanted to be in the reserves, and find a way to honor fallen veterans.
"I do funeral honors for Navy veterans," she explained.
Melissa believes giving back is the least she can do.
"It makes me feel good,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’ve done something and made an impact on someone else's life."
She said being in the military gave her a lot.
"It’s given me opportunities I don't think I would've gotten had I not gone in," she urged.
Thinking back to her time in boot camp, she never would have expected to be where she is now.
"To be here nine years later, it's kind of crazy to think about," she laughed.
Melissa hopes her story can encourage other women to step forward.
"Make a point to do better and show the men that women are just as strong, smart, and we can do the same things that they can do," she said.
Melissa also met her husband in the Navy. The couple is in the reserves and calls Chattanooga home.
She is one of approximately 350 current UTC students who have served in the military.
The university has a student veteran’s organization for veterans like Melissa. It offers mentoring opportunities, a place for veterans to meet each other, and assistance to veterans transitioning into college life.