Ryan Smithson is special. As a teenager who enlisted in the Army after witnessing the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he showed courage at an early age. After serving his country in Iraq he came home inwardly troubled. To ease his emotional turmoil, he wrote. Publishing his story as a book, "Ghosts of War," taught him the power of taking what he knew about himself to create the future that he wanted. The book also connected him to his passions for history and writing.
Ryan's story overlaps with the story of Nicholas Pekearo, who was an auxiliary police officer who was killed on duty in 2007. Nicholas was a prolific writer who was earning a degree at SUNY Empire State College before he died. Nicholas' mentor at the college’s Metropolitan Center, Shirley Ariker, told The New York Times at the time of Nick's death that, "He wrote stories about people struggling to do the right thing."
Ryan applied for the Nicholas Pekearo Endowed Scholarship in Creative Writing, and among numerous competitive applications his was selected. Ryan credits the scholarship with keeping him motivated and focused on his goals. By day an oil deliveryman, and by night a student, it's hard to know how Ryan also could be a husband, parent and book author. The scholarship support makes it possible. Ryan's story is a story shared by many veterans who come home without an outlet for their deep and painful memories of war. Many are young and don't have life experiences that help them reflect, heal and move on. "Although you don't fit back into society the way you thought you should, you have to find an outlet for your thoughts and feelings. You have to move on," says Ryan. "For me, it was college and figuring out another way to be, besides being a soldier."
As a former scholarship recipient, Ryan is a reminder that scholarships go to real people who are trying to make a better life for themselves. In addition to his memoir, "Ghosts of War," Ryan continues to work on both fiction and nonfiction writing projects.