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Commitment to service: Student veteran builds community of support

Paul Scherlek felt called to service. Maybe it was his upbringing. A self-described Army brat, his mother and father both served in the U.S. Army. Or maybe it was his experiences over three tours in Afghanistan as an infantryman. Whatever it was, Scherlek, 26, has dedicated his young life to service, and to building community for those who can sometimes find themselves searching for one.

Sgt. Scherlek, DMSB’18, is president of Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization, and is committed to ensuring his brothers and sisters in arms have a place they can call home once they’re out of the military.

“One of the things I saw and experienced is that people come out of service and they can fall off the radar,” Scherlek said. “They get lost and they’re not even sure what questions to ask or who to ask them to. So, having things like the SVO where these people can come and talk openly about the unique challenges they’re facing is so important.”

“It’s people who will notice a change in your personality and sit down to talk through tough things. It’s people who understand you.”

Paul Scherlek DMSB'18, President of the Student Veterans Organization

Scherlek enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately after high school, looking to continue his father’s legacy in the special forces. He deployed right away to Afghanistan, ultimately serving three tours there.

On his final tour, he served alongside the Joint Special Operations Forces of the Jordanian Armed Forces, where he met people who would change his life, and whose lives he would also change.

Among them was a Jordanian man whose “main goal was to put his kids through American universities,” Scherlek said.

So when Scherlek got back to the U.S., he got to work helping his newfound friend. Scherlek temporarily housed the man, who has since moved to New York, helped pay his cellphone bill, and helped him secure a job as a mover. The man regularly sends money back home to his family in Jordan, “feeding that ultimate goal of paying college tuition,” Scherlek explained.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Just as he helped establish a community for his Jordanian friend, Scherlek is continuing to knit the community together for veterans at Northeastern. It’s a community that can sometimes make a life or death difference for returning servicewomen and men struggling to reorient themselves to civilian life.

“Your life changes so drastically after you get out, and getting integrated back into the world can be difficult on your own,” Scherlek said. “Sometimes, it’s not a suicide hotline that saves lives, it’s friends. It’s people who will notice a change in your personality and sit down to talk through tough things. It’s people who understand you.”

Scherlek emceed Northeastern’s Veterans Day ceremony, invoking the commitment to service that’s been a thread through his life and through the lives of others who’ve served.

“In the past six months alone, we’ve facilitated nearly 30 events, increased our social media reach by 190 percent, and seen a 300 percent growth in participation among members,” he said of the Student Veterans Organization. “Yesterday’s warriors are today’s scholars, and tomorrow’s leaders.”