Alumni engage veterans with law and democracy
Mike Ferguson’s (JD 89) first job consisted of “being fired at while trying to keep your wits about you.” After that experience, law school was just a “three-year vacation” for the retired brigadier general.
The Vietnam veteran went from commanding armed forces on the battlefield to commanding attention as a top performer at UF Law in his late 40s. Now, at 75, he serves as a volunteer advocate for veterans, current service members and their families, commanding respect as North Florida’s senior civilian aide to Secretary of the Army John McHugh under President Barack Obama.
In just about every role Ferguson has ever held, he’s been serving others — whether country or community. Almost daily, Ferguson meets with active duty or retired members of the United States Army, helping them with everything from training areas on Florida bases to housing and education for their families to helping veterans adapt to civilian life.
This spring Ferguson was recognized by the Association of the Army of the United States of America with a Lifetime of Service award, and he received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of West Florida where he delivered the commencement address for the class of 2014.
In Florida there are about 10,000 national guardsmen, 5,000 reservists and 6,000 active duty soldiers, he said. From Orlando and north, Ferguson is there, speaking, visiting or talking to the governor or Senate President Don Gaetz about what North Florida’s service members need.
“I am passionate. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen what happens to nations that don’t have people who are absolutely spirited about democracy and helping their fellow citizens and standing up for the things that America stands for,” he said.
Ferguson’s father died in combat during World War II while serving as a heavy machine gunner in the attack on Cologne, Germany. In 1960 Ferguson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army after graduating from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. He has received more than 30 military awards, including the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Distinguished Service Medal. When he retired from the military at 49, he decided to attend UF Law on what remained of his GI Bill. Ferguson wanted to get back into his Florida community and contribute, he said. “To me, there was no better way to do that than in the legal end of things.”
Ferguson, who is a retired partner from the Pensacola law firm McDonald, Fleming & Moorhead, said law school gives veterans “a chance to see what they’re doing and how they’re contributing to their country. Democracy is only supportable if, in fact, you know the laws, you understand the laws and you try to assist in keeping those laws for what they were intended to be by our founding fathers.”
Ferguson is adamant about encouraging all veterans to “get out” and “be better contributors to society.”
And with so many military veterans, there has never been a better time for a scholarship to help them do just that, said Army veteran and UF Law alumnus Matthew Hall (JD 11). For most, the GI Bill is not enough to cover the costs of both a bachelor’s degree and a juris doctor. That’s why he created the Law School Veteran’s Scholarship Fund, the first endowed scholarship that will be available exclusively to UF Law’s military veterans.
“People just assume that the Army pays for your college,” said Hall, who had his undergraduate degree covered by the GI Bill but was out of his “Army college fund” by the time law school rolled around. For many veterans, “it’s just almost cost deterrent to go to school and take a sacrifice financially.”
The scholarship is about halfway funded, said Lindsey Farah, associate director of Development & Alumni Affairs. Hall must raise $30,000 for a permanent endowed scholarship.
“The future of America will almost certainly be guided and molded by military veterans and lawyers,” Hall wrote on his scholarship fundraising website. “With the help of this scholarship, we can assure that more of our future leaders are products of the University of Florida Levin College of Law.”
Visit https://sites.google.com/site/uflawveteransscholarship/ to donate to the Law School Veteran’s Scholarship Fund.