Jessie Selissen was in 10th grade when a service member from her hometown of Boyne City was killed during an insurgent attack overseas. She vividly recalls residents lining the streets in silent tribute during the funeral procession. Now Selissen is an Air Force veteran who will graduate Saturday with a degree in multimedia production from Northern Michigan University.
She recently put her military background and academic experience to work producing a “Northern Michigan Hometown Heroes” podcast highlighting veterans and reputable nonprofits that assist them.
Selissen successfully proposed the podcast idea to 9&10 News in Cadillac early in her summer internship as a digital content producer. The final episode aired in late November, but the series launched, appropriately, with Selissen interviewing the parents of the Boyne City man whose death had rocked her hometown years earlier.
Private First Class Jackie Lee Diener II died a decade ago in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, after insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal for his service during Operation Enduring Freedom. Selissen said the residual impact of the tragedy, combined with her own family's military heritage, contributed to her decision to enlist.
“It was difficult and emotional to interview his Gold Star Family,” said Selissen, as tears pooled in her vibrant blue eyes. “I knew there was nothing I could say or do to take away the pain; it was just my way of remembering their son or sharing his story with others. It turned out well and the family was very happy with it. The podcast was the highlight of my year and it's definitely not done. My hope is that veterans will learn what resources are available to them and might be inspired to give back.”
Another episode featured Ron Oja, administrator for D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette, where Selissen volunteered while attending NMU.
In addition to interviewing relevant individuals from all over the state and beyond, Selissen said she did “a lot of digging and filtering” to find reputable resources for veterans. These included Ultimate Veteran Adventures, whose mission is to provide healing through hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities; and Brave Hearts Estate, a ranch located 15 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge where veterans and their families can relax in a country setting.
“When you leave active duty, the joke is that you go through a week-long ‘death by PowerPoints,' with so much information that it's overwhelming,” said Selissen, who has transitioned to the Michigan Air National Guard. “Then they throw a giant VA benefit book at you and wish you goodbye and good luck. With all the benefits and organizations out there, my podcast was my way of doing something for veterans, whether it's finding really good nonprofit organizations that genuinely give back or sharing veterans' inspiring stories.”
Selissen used her GI Bill benefits to attend NMU, allowing her to earn a debt-free bachelor's degree. Commencement begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, in the NMU Superior Dome. It will be streamed live at nmu.edu/commencement.