For Medal of Honor recipient Captain William D. Swenson, receiving the nation’s highest military award for valor provides opportunities to bring awareness to issues impacting veterans today. It is a cause important to Swenson, a 2001 political science graduate who served nine years in the U.S. Army.
When Capt. Swenson received the Medal of Honor at the White House last October, he spoke openly about what the award means to him. “This award is earned with a team of our finest Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and our Afghan partners standing side by side. Now that teams includes Gold Star families who lost their fathers, sons and husbands that day. This medal represents them, it represents us.”
In presenting Swenson with the medal, President Obama said, “Americans like Will remind us of what our country can be at its best—a nation of citizens who look out for one another, who meet our obligations to one another, not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard. Will, you’re an example to everyone in this city and to our whole country of the professionalism and patriotism that we should strive for.”
Swenson has received many commendations and top awards for his military service including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Last year he was inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Fame. And adding to his decorated military career is a personal honor: he is the 2014 Alumnus of the Year, recognized by Seattle University and the Office of Alumni Relations.
An embedded adviser to the Afghan National Border police, Swenson was on patrol with American and Afghan troops in 2009 when they were ambushed and pinned down for six hours by more than 60 well-armed Taliban forces. Ganjgal became one of the bloodiest battles in the 12-year-old war. Putting himself at great risk, Swenson rescued his sergeant and several Afghans and retrieved the bodies of four service members.
“Swenson’s strength of character was undeniable. Even after the battle, Will was not afraid to point out deficiencies in the operation that caused difficulties in obtaining the appropriate and timely support necessary. He recognized the importance of assessing performance and had the character to stick to his convictions,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
Having studied political science in the College of Arts and Sciences at SU, Swenson considered pursuing a job in the State Department. But while in the Balkans studying language, he was so impressed by the contributions of the American military there that he enrolled in the College Option Officer Candidate School. In 2002, he began training at Fort Benning, Ga.
In February, the Washington State Senate recognized Capt. Swenson for his service and bravery in battle. He touched on the platform afforded to him because of the Medal of Honor.
“I get to tell a story about my service members, my team and in the future I get to continue their legacy,” Swenson said, in addressing the Senate, as reported by KOMO News. “And I get to bring attention to sometimes, unfortunately, undervalued service that our service members provide.”
Referring to his own service, Swenson says, “Every step I took, I had someone supporting me. Leadership is all about establishing trust,” he continued, “and making people want to follow you.”
Here’s a look at this year’s other deserving Alumni Award recipients:
Professional Achievement – David M. Johnson, ’87 EdD
Dr. David M. Johnson is this year’s winner of the Professional Achievement alumni award. A respected leader and CEO of mental health centers for 27 years, Johnson has also been a clinician for 37 years. Currently, he leads Navos, one the largest community health centers in the state, with a $54 million operating budget and a staff of 650. Frequently invited to address national and local groups on mental health issues, Wilson won the 2013 Visionary Service Award by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare and received last year’s Evergreen Award from Washington Nonprofits for his outstanding innovation and agility in the service of his community.
Community Service – M. Lorena Gonzalez, ’05 JD
A nationally recognized civil rights attorney, M. Lorena Gonzalez is a child of Mexican farm workers and now a partner at the law firm of Schroeter, Goldmark and Bender (SGB). Gonzalez is a tireless advocate for social justice. In 2007, she co-founded and continues to co-administer the monthly Latina/o Bar Association of Washington and SGB’s free legal clinic at Seattle’s El Centro de la Raza. In 2012, she successfully settled an excessive force and discrimination suit filed against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department that resulted in a mandate that the use of racially charged language in the force was grounds for termination. She is honored with the Community Service alumni award for her notable work in the community in the name of justice.
University Service – Kip Toner, ‘66
Kip Toner is a generous contributor of both his time and talents and has long been a strong supporter of his alma mater. After 23 years of service that included two years as chair of the Board of Regents, Toner is now a Seattle University Regent Emeritus. For more than two decades he has been the auctioneer for Seattle University’s Gala and most recently auctioneered for the inaugural Red Tie Celebration benefiting SU Athletics. Toner’s commitment and enthusiasm has inspired other to follow his lead and his involvement with the university makes him a worthy recipient of the University Service award.
Distinguished Teaching – Greg Magnan
Albers School of Business and Economics Professor Greg Magnan is recognized for his excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. An especially gifted teacher, Magnan is extremely popular with students at the executive, graduate and undergraduate levels. His innovative approach to combining online learning with traditional classroom methods has been a model for the university. The focus of his research on supply chain business practices has been nationally recognized and published in a number of professional journals. Magnan has served on the Sullivan Leadership Award Committee and on several strategic planning committees for the business school. A key member of the Leadership Executive MBA Program, Magnan has co-chaired the President’s Task Force on sustainability and innovative program delivery.
Young Alumnus of the Year – Khaled Jaraysa, ’08, ‘09
Khaled Jaraysa is a picture of perseverance and hope. At age 13 he lost his arm in a machinery accident. Three years later, his father died. Rather than become embittered, he is committed to rebuilding the lives of children shattered by war. While a student at SU Jaraysa founded the Children of Peace Foundation in 2007 to support the Holy Family Care Center where he received care. Funds raised help to maintain and expand Holy Family services, the only such program in the Bethlehem area. Thanks to Children of Peace, the Holy Child Program is now providing a new evidence-based program as a service. Through his foundation, the traumatized children of Palestine not only receive specialized therapeutic care, but most importantly a reason to hope for a better tomorrow.
Check out a video from this year's award ceremony.