North Muskegon Cooley student honored for her leadership, dedication, heart

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PHOTO #1: Zaneta Adams received her Great Deeds award on November 16.

PHOTO #2: Above, Zaneta Adams, second from right, with members of the Cooley Veterans Corps she chairs: left to right, rear: Aaron Cook, a U.S. Army Veteran; Bola Aibinuomo; Paul A. Martin, retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major; and front, Kelley James-Jura. The group, and Adams, organized  a Freedom Luncheon honoring veterans. On the flags behind them are the Christmas wishes of formerly-homeless vets who have recently found homes through the non-profit Grand Rapids Veterans Center; the Veterans Corps, Cooley Law School, and Adams spearheaded a drive to fulfill those wishes, which met with great success.    (Legal News Photo by Cynthia Price)


By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Law school students have plenty to do to keep up academically, participate in professional organizations, and still find some time for their personal lives, so it is all the more impressive when they devote themselves to serving others.

“Impressive” is a perfect description of Zaneta Adams, who has just won the Great Deeds Award from Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism.

She not only does well in her studies, heads up two student organizations — the Veterans Corps and the Black Law Students Association — and is starting a Veteran’s pro bono legal program through the local Veterans Center, but is also a wife and mother of six children, including two sets of twins, who commutes to Cooley from North Muskegon.

And she can sing.

The Great Deeds Award is given to students who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the service of others. It is given up to once per term per Cooley campus, and Adams received hers at the honors convocation held Nov. 16.

“I just want to say that I was honored to receive the award — I wasn’t expecting it,” Adams comments. “I don’t do the stuff I do expecting recognition for it; I just want to see people getting what they deserve.”

Like many who are driven to help others, Adams had a defining experience that shaped her life.

Adams served in the U.S. army for eight years. Then, as she tells it, “I was serving during operation Iraqi Freedom a few weeks out from deploying, and during a rapid combat exercise, I was doing a dismount and fell 11 feet from the truck I was on, onto my back.” Doctors said she would never walk again, but after two surgeries, her strong determination brought her back to her feet. “It took me a while,” she says, “from wheelchair to walker to cane.” She still has “a lot of pain days,“ but  it is of overwhelming importance to her to not give in.

Indeed, the turning point in her experience was not her accident and recovery but something that occurred as a result. She was not deployed because of her injury, but the nine others she had trained with went over to Iraq together. During a roadside bombing, all nine were killed.

“So I really do feel like my life has purpose. God kept me here for a reason,” Adams says.

Her beyond-the-call-of-duty attitude has resulted in being chosen as a spokesperson for two national organizations. And that is where the singing comes in.

Challenge America is, as Adams puts it, “a resource hub for military personnel,” founded by married couple Amy Grant — often called “The Queen of Christian Pop” — and country singer Vince Gill. It grew out of an existing disabilities advocacy organization, Challenge Aspen, and though it focuses on injured veterans, the countrywide resources aggregated on its website are available to all vets.

Adams has made use of her formidable vocal talent to draw attention to the challenges faced by returning veterans, especially of recent wars. She traveled all over the country to sing the national anthem as part of Challenge America, as well as for Folds of Honor (see below).  She was able to sing that same moving song at Challenge Aspen fund-raising concerts featuring, Grant, Gill and other well-known performers.

“I may be singing again at Cowboy Stadium in January, with people like Toby Keith and Miranda Lambert,” Adams says. “They fly me out for those concerts, but we’re still making arrangements for that one, so I’m not sure.”

The other national organization she serves is Folds of Honor, which she explains was inspired by founder Major Dan Rooney right here in West Michigan. While disembarking from a plane at Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Rooney waited for the body of a fallen soldier to be taken off. He observed the mourning family, including children, and wondered, “What’s going to happen to them?”

The mission of Folds of Honor is  “rallying a nation to ensure no family is left behind in the fight to preserve American freedom. Through scholarships and other assistance, we give back to the spouses and children of soldiers killed or disabled in service...”

Adams’s children have received Folds of Honor scholarships. She says, “I do a lot of appearances for Folds of Honor, but not as much since I’ve been in law school.”

Adams is in her second year at Cooley, and she takes it seriously. She says her husband, whom she met while in the service, is amazing for his support of her during her education.

In addition to her presidency of the Veterans Corps and Black Law Students Association, this remarkable young woman is working hard to start up a monthly pro bono veterans assistance program at Grand Rapids Veterans Center, and possibly a less-frequent program in Muskegon. She is a state veteran contact for Sen. Debbie Stabenow.  She has done mentoring for the national Wounded Warriors Project.

She serves as a Cooley student ambassador and assistant in the Academic Resource Center. She won honors in the Mock Trial competition, and placed in the top 6 in the Intra-school Moot Court competition last summer.

Adams is also doing an internship at the Grand Rapids law firm of Jensen, DeHaan and Symko, which includes assistance with Social Security Administration forms. When asked what she thinks she would like to pursue after law school, she says “I would like to do what I’m doing right now.” She remains passionate about helping veterans, particularly in the benefits area.

Karen Rowlader, Director of the Grand Rapids Campus Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism., said upon giving the award, “Zaneta, you do all of this with confidence, patience, compassion, and skill. You are an inspiration to me, to everyone at Cooley, and to all of those whose lives you have touched.”