Story by Kalyn Story | News Editor, Video by Meredith Aldis | Broadcast Reporter
Ryan Reynolds ate lunch in his car while listening to ESPN radio almost every day his first semester at Baylor. He befriended more professors than classmates during his first year on campus. The 30 year-old Oakland, Calif., native is not your traditional Baylor student; he commutes two hours a day to get to campus, he’s married and a veteran.
While Reynolds was stationed at Ft. Hood, he fell in love with Texas. When he left the military in 2013, he knew he wanted to go to college in Texas, and he was pretty sure he wanted to go to the University of Texas at Austin; in fact, he had already committed there when he came to visit Baylor.
“I really just kind of showed up as a courtesy because I applied and they reached out,” Reynolds said. “It’s cheesy, but I just felt at home here. Like welcome here and like I belonged here. I can’t really put it into words; just a feeling of this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Reynolds said what really sold him was Baylor’s Veteran Educational and Transitional Services (VETS) program.
He said the VETS program is put in place to help veterans transition from the military, from the “warrior mindset” into trying to find a new identity in the civilian world. Each veteran in the program takes a class to help them get acclimated and understand what Baylor offers its students.
Reynolds said finding his civilian identity has been a journey. Reynolds did not want to leave the military; in fact, he fought hard to stay in, but when he was medically retired, he wasn’t sure what to do with his life outside of the Army.
“My entire life, I’ve always felt called to service and for most of my life I thought that that was through the military, serving my country and having the protector mindset. Through higher education I’ve realized I can still serve my community and my country,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds is studying history; he is a McNair Scholar and has the goal of becoming a professor. Reynolds said at Baylor, he realized that he can continue to serve by educating future college graduates and making sure everyone has access to quality education.
“Education is extremely uplifting, and being at a university you are around people that realize the upward mobility that exists in higher education,” Reynolds said. “Fellow veterans push you to achieve your personal, academic and professional goals.”
VETS program manager Kevin Davis said Reynolds in particular lifts his peers up and leaves a lasting impact on those around him.
“[Ryan’s story] makes me reflect on my own life honestly — and drives me to give more of myself in my life as well,” Davis said. “I think that is probably the best thing about Ryan — he inspires everyone around him to be better people.”
Reynolds said although it can be tough sometimes being a non-traditional student at Baylor he believes non-traditional students can benefit a classroom.
“I think veterans have a unique experience,” Reynolds said. “They’re a little calloused and a little jaded and can sometimes be a bit crass but I think that is a nice element to add to a classroom because life is crass and jaded, it’s not going to be smooth sailing.”
Being able to connect with fellow veterans is something that Reynolds said helped change his experience at Baylor.
“The veteran community is very unique. We are all extremely tight knit. Even though we may have just met each other, there are instant bonds that you can’t really describe but it’s just there.”
Reynolds said the VETS lounge opening up last semester gave veterans a place to congregate between classes and connect with each other.
VETS program manager Kevin Davis said the lounge was something that VETS Founder Dr. Janet Bagby was really influential in establishing.
“[Dr. Janet Bagby] recognized the tremendous value in having a “home away from home” for our vets,” Davis said. “It is a place to re-energize and find familiar faces in a university setting that is primarily traditionally aged and backgrounded students.”
Reynolds said he struggles with PTSD and severe anxiety. As a side effect he said he has the tendency to isolate himself and cut himself off from people, but he recognizes that is an unhealthy mindset.
About 10 months ago, he decided to put himself out there by going to counseling and finding proactive ways to challenge himself and deal with things that made him uncomfortable.
“I heard someone say ‘don’t double down on your strengths, triple down on your weaknesses’ and that had a big impact on me to really challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and overcome my fears and anything that might hold me back,” Reynolds said.
Davis said Reynolds’ story of strength and overcoming adversity encourages those around him.
“Ryan is a phenomenal student, and it is students like him that make me feel incredibly humbled to get to work in a position that I don’t consider a job but rather an incredible and inspiring blessing,” Davis said. “His leadership, humility, courageous vulnerability and honest pursuit of service gives everyone around him permission to wrestle through life in the same inspiring way.”
Reynolds is getting ready to graduate in December and said he will be leaving Baylor a completely different man than the one who ate lunch in his car everyday. He said Baylor’s Christian mindset impacted him during his time here and he will carry that grace with him.
“Another thing that appealed to me about Baylor is that I felt really cold and felt that I lost a lot of grace, and I wanted to be around people with grace,” Reynolds said.