For the third consecutive year, Clemson University is sending a female student veteran to the prestigious Focus Forward Fellowship. The nationally-competitive program only takes in about 20 to 25 members each year and is charged with instilling skills, leadership and a sense of community among women. Victoria Graham, originally from Mississippi, will be part of this year’s cohort.

Due to COVID-19, the program normally held in Indianapolis, Indiana will take place virtually from Sunday, July 26 through Saturday, August 8. The program will provide fellows with a community of support, access to professional mentors, strategies and resources to increase campus connections, confidence in problem-solving and develop skills to foster academic and career goals.

Head shot of May 2020 graduate Victoria Graham, a US Navy veteran

Victoria Graham — a U.S. Navy veteran and May 2020 graduate — has been accepted into the Focus Forward Fellowship, a mentoring program designed for female student veterans.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“I am really excited to be accepted into the fellowship program,” said Graham, who completed her accounting degree requirements in May. “I’m excited to meet the other females in the cohort and be part of a group that keeps in touch with one another and lifts each other up and helps each other in our goals and aspirations over the course of the next year.”

Graham follows in the footsteps of Lizz Sampson (2018) and Amanda Nicks (2019) as Clemson student veterans accepted into the program.

It’s an impressive feat given Clemson’s relatively short history of dedicated support to student veterans through the Division of Student Affairs. For Graham — a graduating senior and veteran of the United States Navy — it only scratches the surface of her impact.

Graham was an electrician in the Navy from 2011-17. She served on the USS Nimitz in a 2013 deployment that took her to many parts of the world, including Bahrain, Dubai, Italy, South Korea and Thailand.

Following a semester at USC Upstate, she transferred to Clemson in January 2018. She met a fellow student veteran in an accounting class who introduced her to the Student Veteran Center, located in Tillman Hall at the time.

Head shot of Victoria Graham from Military and Veteran Engagement

Graham was an assistant with Military and Veteran Engagement through the VA work-study program most of her undergraduate experience.
Image Credit: Student Affairs Publications

Connections quickly followed. Graham served as a student assistant for Military and Veteran Engagement as part of the VA’s work-study program, something she continued most of her time at Clemson. She joined the campus chapter of the Student Veterans of America (SVA), where in particular she enjoyed the service aspect, such as building ramps and cleaning houses for veterans through Purple Heart Homes.

“Victoria has been remarkable,” said Brennan Beck, director of Military and Veteran Engagement. “She’s made relationships, found her community and got involved in literally anything and everything related to veterans.”

In 2019, Graham was elected vice president of the Military Council, a student organization designed to promote communication, collaboration, advocacy and progression among military-affiliated student groups and Clemson University.

Her first year, she also served the role of treasurer — which carried a great deal of importance along with it.

“We grew it to be a governmental organization that served as a liaison,” she said. “A lot of the organizations were having problems getting funding and communicating their needs. We proposed to Clemson Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG) that Military Council would get a lump sum of funds and we would distribute the money.

“My first year, we distributed the $85,000 in allocations between 15 different organizations.”

Graham would go on to hold leadership positions with the SVA as well, serving as treasurer before taking over as president her final semester. She also served as a student member on the Clemson University Veterans Commission.

Group of student veterans pictured with President Clements at 2019 Walk for Veterans

Graham, right, joined President Jim Clements and other student veterans prior to the 2019 Walk for Veterans.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

She was co-recipient of the Outstanding Student Veteran Award in Fall 2018 along with Ty Robinson. In May 2020, she was the first student veteran to receive the Chalmers R. Carr and Jeannette D. Carr Keeping the Tradition Alive Award presented by Clemson Corps. The award recognizes ROTC cadets and now student veterans for outstanding efforts and contributions in promoting Clemson’s rich and distinguished military heritage and history.

Kenedey Ward, a military-connected student, lived with Graham over her final year at Clemson. She said Graham’s story is one of success simply because of her internal drive.

“Victoria doesn’t back down from a challenge,” Ward said. “She embraces adversity and is engaged with people. Her ability to see the good in any situation allows her to be a driving force for student veteran advocacy.”

Graham has also made her mark academically.

This spring — in addition to her duties as SVA president — she completed an internship with Cherry Bekaert accounting firm in Greenville. She enjoyed working with small business owners on their taxes and is set to enroll in the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to pursue a master’s degree in accounting.

Graham looks back at her Clemson experience with the fondest of memories, although one bittersweet memory still feels incomplete in her mind.

“I was looking forward to celebrating my accomplishments and sharing pictures from graduation over social media,” she admitted. “It was pretty rough for me, because my parents never came to Clemson in the time I was enrolled. May was going to be their first time and I am the first person in my family to graduate from college.

“It doesn’t quite feel like I’ve graduated yet.”

Maybe not, but that won’t take away from Graham’s achievements and indelible mark left on the student veteran culture at Clemson.

“Females make up only 17 percent of the enrolled student veteran population at Clemson,” Beck said. “Still, Victoria has continuously stepped up to serve as a leader and advocate for her peers. I believe her story is an inspiration for others to do the same.”