9/11 Survivor to Speak to UM Student Veterans, Alumni

Inaugural Veterans Alumni Gala fosters community and student opportunities

Will Jimeno

OXFORD – Faith, hope and love will be the message from World Trade Center survivor Will Jimeno as he speaks at the University of Mississippi’s inaugural Veterans Alumni Gala, set for Nov. 2 at The Inn at Ole Miss.

The event, hosted by the Ole Miss Student Veterans Association, is designed to let student veterans network with alumni, build relationships and develop a community better suited to helping its members once their college careers conclude.

Jimeno, who was an officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2001 and was buried under the rubble of the World Trade Center for 13 hours, plans to challenge attendees to live life to the fullest after serving their country.

“What I always share, whether I’m speaking to veterans or anyone else, is faith, hope and love,” Jimeno said. “That’s what helped me survive on 9/11 and that’s what helps people survive every day.

“Speaking to a group of veterans – there are many people in that room that have had their own World Trade Center, be it in combat or seeing a comrade fall next to them. Faith, hope and love is what we do with ourselves after we were hit with our World Trade Center analogy.”

Before becoming a Port Authority officer, Jimeno served four years in the U.S. Navy.

“Events like (the alumni gala) are a great honor to speak at,” Jimeno said. “I get to spread the message about what my team did on 9/11 and what we as Americans overcame.

“But it also allows me to honor veterans that serve and protect us. I always had a deep desire to serve our country. The military taught me a lot, and my military service runs deep.”

The ultimate goal of the black-tie gala is to build relationships between current student veterans and Ole Miss graduates, said Andrew Newby, assistant director for Veteran and Military Services and organizer of the event.

“I want our students to have allies when they graduate, those who’ve seen their progression from veteran to student to graduate. I want them to impart wisdom by making an investment in the student veterans who’ve already given of themselves in their call to service.”

Newby will present awards to five student veterans chosen from an application and essay process. Each award is different and reflects the essays written by applicants.

The Initiative, Spirit, Perseverance, Genius and Leadership awards will be chosen by the executive committee of the Student Veterans Association based on how each applicant’s essay portrays one of the traits represented by the award.

Besides connecting with alumni, student veterans will have an opportunity to meet state and national dignitaries, including Robert Wilkie, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker; U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly; and Gov. Phil Bryant.

Proceeds from the gala will go toward the Welcome Home Campaign, which creates initiatives and programs for student veterans at Ole Miss. The gala, which is sold out, begins at 6 p.m. with a cocktail hour, followed by dinner and speakers.

“By connecting student veterans to our alumni within their current fields, students can engage them with questions and receive guidance on how to succeed in their chosen degree path,” Newby said. “If, at the end of the night, a young engineering student veteran is able to make a meaningful connection with an engineer from Ole Miss, the night has been successful.”