Shaun Cason has been a Marine Raider, a Purple Heart recipient, and deployed on special forces operations to Iraq and Afghanistan — and now, the veteran can add one of Princeton University’s highest awards to that list.

As the winner of the 2023 Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship, Cason has become the first decorated military veteran and the first Princeton transfer student to receive the prestigious award, which commemorates “a brilliant student and an inspiring individual, and provides recipients with an opportunity to study, work, or travel abroad after graduation.”

“It was all quite surreal,” Cason said. “I was just honored to be a finalist with such an impressive group of students. Becoming a Sachs Scholar places me in a very special group of tremendous individuals who received the award in the past, so to be selected as this year’s recipient is amazing and really humbling.”

Before attending Princeton, where he will graduate later this year with a history degree, Cason served for 15 years in the Marine Corps and earned an associate’s degree from Coastal Carolina Community College.

Cason’s Princeton studies focus on how the medieval history of Byzantium and the Middle East reverberates through modern social and political climates, and his ultimate goal is to become a professor after pursuing his master’s degree in late antique and byzantine studies at Oxford University in England.

He also wants to continue serving as a mentor for veterans and non-traditional students.

“The honor of being a Sachs Scholar extends beyond myself. I view this as a huge victory for veterans in higher education and I am so thankful for the Sachs Committee selecting me,” Cason said. “Enlisted veterans are a growing demographic in elite and private universities in the United States, and every major accomplishment validates the worth of veterans in these institutions and why the programs for access and inclusion for underrepresented demographics need to be continued and supported.”

Cason tutors with Service to School and the Warrior Scholar Project, and is director of advocacy and a board member for Princeton’s undergraduate veteran organization. He recommends the Warrior Scholar Project to fellow veterans wanting to follow in his higher education footsteps.

“Ultimately, I hope that my academic journey so far serves as not only proof of veterans’ capability and worth but serves as an inspiration to other veterans. I hope that my success at Princeton and beyond shows other veterans that they not only can gain entry to elite universities, but excel,” he said.

According to the Princeton, the Ivy League school has seen an increase in the number of student veterans in the past five years — from just five in 2017 to 40 in 2022. The school said it hopes Cason’s story will open doors for many more.

History professor Helmut Reimitz called Cason a “top notch academic” and a “truly wonderful person.”

“With his social intelligence, empathy, enthusiasm and … his wonderful sense of humor, he always manages to bring his skills and qualities in conversation with the interests and skills of the people he is working with, be it his classmates, his teachers or other partners in the projects he is involved [in],” Reimitz said. “In short, Shaun is a brilliant upcoming academic who has already proven his academic excellence, intellectual originality and his leadership in many different contexts.”

Theater/journalism student Anna Allport and English doctoral candidate Isabelle (Izzy) Stuart also join Cason as 2023 Sachs Scholars.

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