J.R. Martinez, the U.S. Army veteran whose life story has inspired millions through his work as an actor, performer and motivational speaker, will be the keynote speaker at Clark College’s 2012 Commencement Ceremony on June 21.
Martinez was grand marshal in the 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade and was nationally recognized as the champion of season 13 of Dancing with the Stars. He first became widely known through his ongoing role as a military veteran on the Emmy Award-winning daytime soap opera, All My Children.
Martinez was born in 1983 in Louisiana. After his high school graduation, Martinez saw a commercial for the U.S. Army and eventually decided to enlist. In March 2003, Martinez was deployed to Iraq and on April 5, less than a month into his deployment, he was serving as a driver of a Humvee in Karbala, when his left front tire hit a land mine.
Three other soldiers were ejected from the vehicle, but Martinez was trapped inside. He suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body. After he was finally pulled out of the Humvee, Martinez was evacuated to a local medic station in Iraq and then Germany for immediate care. He was eventually sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where he spent 34 months in recovery and underwent 33 different surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.
During his time in recovery, a nurse asked Martinez to speak to a burn patient who had just seen his body for the first time and had become withdrawn. According to Martinez, after an approximate 45-minute visit, the patient opened the curtain, “letting light in his room and his heart.” Martinez then understood the impact he had on this patient and decided to use his experience to help others, visiting with several of the patients in the hospital, sharing his story and listening to theirs.
Since then, Martinez has become a highly-sought-after motivational speaker, traveling the country to spread his message of resilience and optimism.
“We are proud to welcome J.R. Martinez, whose life and service to our country is an inspiration,’’ said Clark College President Bob Knight. “We know that his story of resilience, optimism and hope will inspire our students as they celebrate this milestone in their education and their lives.”
The commencement ceremony will be held June 21, 7 p.m., at the Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 NE Delfel Rd., Ridgefield.