Emotion on Veterans Day with ex-SEAL Billy Wagasy (JD '00), Veterans Law Society
Wed, Nov. 12, 2015 -- Alumnus William "Billy" Wagasy (JD '00), this year's Veterans Day speaker, served ten years as a Navy SEAL before returning to work with organizations like the Gary Sinise Foundation. He has traveled on a speaking tour with Marcus Luttrell, the SEAL who was the subject of the recent book and movie "Lone Survivor." Wagasy's talk was followed by a Veterans Law Society dinner at Dean Tacha's home.
Via Director of Law Alumni Relations Jessie Fahy (JD '11):
William Wagasy wowed in a Mendenhall Appellate Courtroom packed out with students, faculty, staff, and our Veterans Law Society. Veterans stood to be recognized as William thanked them for their service. There was not a dry eye in the room as he played videos where wounded warriors received new homes through his prior work at the Gary Sinise Foundation. (Here is the home dedication of Jason Ross.) William also made the audience roar with laughter as he told war stories from SEAL training. William started SEAL training after graduating from Pepperdine Law School to fulfill a lifelong dream of serving in the military. "I was the oldest and biggest guy in my class, but I never gave up. I was a linebacker for Notre Dame – most of the SEALs are 5'5" and 130 pounds – that's not me." William recounted a nighttime amphibious training exercise in the islands outside Coronado where a group of men were divided into two groups to be counted, only to find that the groups were mismatched. "Both instructors for each team kept counting the men and thought someone was missing. Many SEALs can lose their lives in training operations, so panic ensued. The instructors asked us to yell out our names one at a time. Finally, they said 'Okay, if everyone is actually here, then who is THIS guy next to us?' We all looked over, and low and behold, a massive sea lion was bobbing up and down next to us."
William also offered advice learned playing football for Notre Dame, going to law school at Pepperdine, and being a SEAL. "One of the most valuable skills I learned in law school was condensing a vast amount of information. When I had to learn five languages for my deployments, I can assure you that my Pepperdine training came in handy." William described Pepperdine as a time of rest that reset his mind, spirit, soul, and body after five grueling years playing college ball. While most find law school to be the most challenging years of their lives, William remembered it as a much-needed time of rejuvenation, preparing him for a decade in the service.
Later in the day, Dean Deanell Tacha held a private reception at her beautiful campus home for forty members and guests of the Veterans Law Society. To show their appreciation for the support from Dean Tacha, the VLS members -- led by VLS President Andrew Goldsmith -- brought the Dean to tears with their gift: a shadowbox of patches, medals, and ranks won by the current and prior VLS members during their time in combat. There were also two scarves worn in combat, re-dyed Pepperdine orange and blue. All the veterans stood to honor the Dean during the presentation. "In all my time on the federal bench, I was never given a gift like this," said the Dean. Paul Freese (Director of Litigation and Policy Advocacy for Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County) attended the dinner as he is part of an initiative between Pepperdine and to help homeless veterans. Paul presented the Dean with a "Challenge Coin," typically given to military members to identify their unit in the military. This particular coin was the identical coin given to veterans who successfully complete their programs in Veterans Court as a reminder of their great work and a preventative measure against relapse. Dean Tacha's father served in World War II. She told the veterans, "See you all is seeing my father."
One of the Dean's great initiatives since her time here has been to draw excellent veterans to Pepperdine and grow the Pepperdine Veterans Law Society. They bring great diversity to the law school. If last night is any indication of those efforts, the program is thriving.
View the Veterans Day 2015 album on Flickr.