Alumnus Marine Gives Back to Fellow Veterans

January 18, 2017

Stephen Lanham, a 2015 graduate of Aquinas College, is combining his life experience and education in his role as Case Manager and Mentor Coordinator at We Are Building Lives. This organization helps homeless and at-risk veterans get back on their feet after discharge from the Armed Services.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Stephen joined the Marine Corp just three weeks after graduating from high school. He served for eight years, and was stationed at both Camp Pendleton in California as well as in Quantico, Virginia. He was deployed twice to Iraq and became a sergeant during his service. Stephen currently resides in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee with his wife and three children, ages 9, 3, and 2.

Stephen Lanham writers night

Stephen discussing his paper on Heart of Darkness during Writer’s Night in 2013

After serving in the Marine Corp, Stephen dabbled in several dead-end jobs before attending Aquinas College. As a veteran, he was fortunate to have the GI bill pay for tuition, books, and housing. He graduated with a B.A. in English and a minor in Philosophy. Stephen credits the academic rigor and faithful foundation that our faculty provide as influential factors in his career. When he runs into difficulties on the job, he can rely on the skills and strength he gained at Aquinas to overcome adversity. He is appreciative of the strong view of the human person that radiates throughout each program on campus.

Dr. Ben Smith and Dr. Katherine Haynes come to Stephen’s mind as the most influential people he encountered at Aquinas. They both led to him think about the future beyond the point of graduation. He was taught by them and other professors that he is not in control and he must leave his worries and concerns with God.

Upon graduation, Stephen received the School of Arts and Sciences’ St. Augustine Award. His essay, a requirement of the award, compared his time after the Marine Corp to the struggles encountered by Beowulf. He cites both Beowulf and The Odyssey as two extremely influential pieces of literature in his studies at Aquinas.

Stephen Lanham St Augustine Award

Stephen receiving the St. Augustine Award in 2015

As an alumnus, Stephen participated in an Aquinas College career panel entitled “What Can I Do With My Degree.” This was an opportunity for him to share his post college journey with our current students. In addition to his full time job, Stephen spends time tutoring high school students in English and history. He is pleased he can help others become educated in the same thought-provoking approach that he was taught at Aquinas.

In his role at We Are Building Lives, Stephen works one-on-one with veterans who need assistance assimilating back into civilian life. He works specifically with Independent Living Clients, who are individuals living in or transitioning into apartments or homes. Since he has had many of the same experiences as the people he counsels and mentors, he is able to form a great bond. He knows and understands exactly what it is they have been through. Stephen educates veterans about helpful programs and services of which they may not be aware. The organization often pays rent and utility bills for a month or two to get veterans started. We Are Building Lives runs entirely on grants and donations, 90-95% of which go directly to the veterans. It is the only privately funded non-profit organization of its kind.

The most rewarding part of his work is hearing success stories. Stephen’s favorite story thus far is of a veteran who not only successfully rebuilt her life but is now volunteering for the organization by planning an annual fundraiser called Art on the Fly. Volunteers comprise a huge portion of the organization. About half of the volunteers are veterans themselves.

Stephen Lanham as King Oberon

Stephen played King Oberon in Dr. Katherine Haynes-directed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The best career advice Stephen ever received is exactly what he would tell current Aquinas students. He was taught that he cannot be too picky, he should never turn down an opportunity unless there is a very good reason, and there is something to be learned from each and every experience. Stephen believes that the most valuable experiences in his life are the time spent with the Marine Corps, the formation of his family, and his time as a student at Aquinas College; without each of them, he would not be where it is today.