Veteran organizations at leading business schools are getting in on the latest challenge to sweep the internet—this time to raise awareness of the incidence of suicide among veterans. The #22PushupChallenge is so named to reflect statistics that suggest that 22 veterans, on average, commit suicide each day. Untreated or inadequately treated mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often to blame.
Christopher Molaro, co-director of alumni relations for the Wharton Veterans Club at the University of Pennsylvania and formerly a captain in the U.S. Army, acknowledges that some have questioned the accuracy of this number. “The 22 number is not substantiated and is debated, but the cause is less about the specific number, 22, and more about building momentum to change the perception of mental health,” he says. “Whether it’s 22 or one per day, it needs to be addressed.”
Molaro and the Wharton Veterans Club accepted the push-up challenge from the Armed Forces Alumni Association of Harvard Business School (HBS), which posted a video of approximately 20 men and women performing push-ups in front of Baker Library on May 4th and called on veterans at Wharton and Stanford Graduate School of Business to pick up the baton.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse for us because it was in the middle of finals week and a lot of people had already left campus,” Molaro notes. But a little adversity wasn’t enough to stop the vets at Wharton—and the larger Wharton community—from uniting around a cause they think is important.
“The veterans at Wharton are a close-knit group, and we feel supported by the entire Wharton community,” Molaro says. So they didn’t limit their canvas for participants to just veterans. He and George Dutile, a fellow rising second-year MBA student and former U.S. Marine, were struck when individuals and groups who had already left campus for the summer replied asking if they could send in videos of themselves accepting the challenge. “The dean of admissions and student life both got wind of it, too, and it just cascaded,” Molaro says.
In the end, the Wharton Veterans Club created a compilation video with contributions from faculty and students in the Wharton community from around the globe. Club co-presidents Vince Kuchar, a former captain in the Army Rangers, and DJ Faldowski, a former Navy officer, led a group of roughly 75 assembled on the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Their push-ups are complemented by videos submitted from Costa Rica, Grenada, Spain, France, Ireland and locations across the United States, as well as a group of approximately 50 members of the Wharton-Lauder Class of 2018.
“It was humbling and quite an honor to be a part of,” Molaro says. “It was just so special to see how the entire school coalesced around this cause.”
“Every Veteran Should Be Focused on It”
Molaro concedes that the issue of combatting veteran suicide had not been one he’d championed personally prior to receiving the HBS challenge. “But every veteran should be focused on it,” he says. “I would challenge you to find any veteran who hasn’t been affected by it, either themselves after returning from service or with someone they are close to.”
Though the push-up challenge is focused on raising awareness around veterans’ mental health issues, Molaro hopes it will serve to elevate awareness around mental health issues in general. “There is still this negative stigma in terms of mental health, but these are problems like any other health problems and no one should be ashamed to seek help for them.”
Strong Veteran Community a Deciding Factor in Choosing Wharton
“The veteran community at Wharton bar none is the reason I got in,” Molaro says, noting that its members went out of their way to be of assistance to him when he was applying, including reviewing his resume and helping him prepare for his interview. In turn, he got involved with the Veterans Club as soon as he got to campus and also offers his assistance to prospective applicants as part of the admissions process. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to pay that forward,” he says.
There are approximately 40 veterans per class in the full-time MBA program at Wharton, and Veterans Club activities are always well attended, he says.
For their part, Molaro and his co-director of alumni relations, former Navy Lieutenant Ben Allen, are focused on deepening relationships with and among Wharton’s veteran alumni. “We want to make sure that the strong ties we experience in the veteran community while at school don’t disappear when we graduate,” he says.
Reach of Push-Up Challenge Widens
As of this writing, Molaro’s Facebook post of the Wharton video has garnered more than 1,300 views, and another 15,000 have viewed it via YouTube and the Wharton Veterans Club website and Facebook page, he reports. HBS’s video from earlier this month, for its part, reflects another 17,000 views on YouTube.
In the introduction to the video, Molaro and Dutile extend the challenge to the veterans’ clubs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Columbia Business School. And at the conclusion of the video, they call out Stanford, which has yet to accept the challenge issued by HBS.
Molaro hopes the reach will extend even further. “I think that all of the top business schools doing it would be a step in the right direction toward the ultimate goal, which is helping people realize and understand that mental health illnesses and diseases are not pseudo illnesses,” he says. “They are real and physically manifesting and they require help to fix. And there is nothing wrong with that.”