Hometown: Coal City, Ill.
College: Industrial and Labor Relations
With his Cornell degree in sight, Luke Opyd ’18 has a message for military veterans who may be wary of their chances for success at an Ivy League university.
“I would tell them ‘You belong here,’” says Opyd, who served in the U.S. Navy for six years. “Veterans don’t think that they belong at these top institutions. They think that it’s completely unobtainable, but I think that when you remove that idea from the equation, then they are very competitive and can bring a lot to the table as a student at a university such as Cornell.”
Opyd enlisted in the Navy in 2008 as an aviation electrician, serving in Japan for four years and then in San Diego, completing his military service as a petty officer second class. He received several awards and decorations, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award for his participation in Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. military’s relief operation after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While enlisted, he earned an associate’s degree in accounting from Post University.
He became interested in Cornell after learning about the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“I thought that it would be a challenge, and it also combines all of my favorite subjects into one major, be it economics, statistics, labor relations, collective bargaining, labor law, labor and employment law,” he says. “That’s a diverse set of subjects, and I had a profound interest in all of them.”
During fall 2017, Opyd worked as an intern at a San Diego law firm. After graduation, he plans to return to the firm as a project analyst and hopes to earn his law degree.
“Receiving professional advice from the incredible professors in ILR helped me discover what my professional interests actually are,” says Opyd. “There are many different areas of the law, of course, but taking a wide range of classes helped me fine-tune my professional trajectory by exposing me to many facets of the law.”
At Cornell, Opyd has promoted the interests of veterans in higher education as a participant in the Warrior-Scholar Project, which helps veterans transition from military to university life; as an ambassador for Service to School, a national organization that consults veterans applying to college; and as a member, and now president, of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association (CUVA).
Veterans arrive at college campuses with several qualities that can help them, Opyd says, such as professionalism gained on their military assignments and experience overcoming challenges.
“They’ve been through boot camp, right? The military is a mental, emotional and physical test and you really learn who you are after that experience,” he says. “I think that experience in itself, not to mention being older and being exposed to other parts of the world that maybe younger students haven’t experienced, gives veterans unique assets to succeed at a place like Cornell.”