Good afternoon, and thank you for being here today as we honor the service of Brown University Veterans, past and present.
I’d like to first thank our special guests, Congressman David Cicilline and Director of the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Affairs, Kasim Yarn for joining us today.
And I want to thank three student Veterans – our emcee, Aimee Fudge; and the key organizers of today’s ceremony, Joshua Waldman and Kaela Lynch. Already in your young lives, you have earned the gratitude of the Brown community and the nation.
My thanks as well to Tristan Hood, president of the Brown Student Veteran Society, who we will hear from shortly. And to Karen McNeil, the director of our Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs, for her leadership.
We are also grateful for the presence of Ted Low, Class of 1949, whose long and distinguished career of military and government service stands as a point of pride for Brown.
And finally, we are thankful for the blessings of Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson, to help unite us in the bonds of faith and service.
On October 12, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law Proclamation 3071, which called on all Americans to observe November 11th of every year as Veterans Day.
The Proclamation urged citizens to: “…solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the sea, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Since that time, Veterans Day has evolved as an occasion to honor our Veterans in many different ways. We salute men and women in uniform marching in local parades. We visit historical sites and memorials, or attend remembrance ceremonies like this one.
In middle schools around the country, kids interview Veterans who share their experience of service, candidly describing its virtues and its perils. Others write letters to active duty service members or sponsor companion dogs for Veterans learning to cope with PTSD.
And at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, a wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknowns, a solemn gesture of respect for those who could not be made whole.
Here at Brown, where the arc of military service stretches from the Revolutionary War to Operation Enduring Freedom, we gather near Soldiers Memorial Arch, the most prominent campus marker honoring the Brown men and women who have served in the Armed Forces.
Our commitment, though, is ongoing, extending beyond November 11th of each year. It is a commitment not just to honor our veterans, but to embrace them as members of the Brown family and understand their lived experience.
In late September, I was pleased to speak when Brown hosted the biannual meeting of the Ivy League Veterans Council, a student group dedicated to increasing Veteran representation at elite colleges and universities. We talked about the ways Brown has created a welcoming, supportive academic environment where veterans can succeed and be the best they can be.
It is clear that interest in Brown among Veterans is growing. We welcomed eight undergraduate Veterans this year compared to one just a few years ago, nearly doubling the total number of 18 on campus. And through our expanded ROTC programs, we doubled our ROTC population with seven incoming cadets and midshipmen, bringing that total to 14.
We want to support Veterans here on College Hill. It remains a privilege to do so.
Now, I think I speak for many in the University community who have not served in saying that it is essential for us as citizens in a democracy to understand the military experience – or at the very least, to appreciate what it means. Brown continues to pioneer ways to do this.
Through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, for example, we launched an initiative that connects Veterans returning to higher education with the wider Rhode Island community. The project engages student Veterans in leading public discussions on military history and literature. And it is emblematic of how Brown sees its educational mission.
Student Veterans have unparalleled experiences to share, and a unique lens on the world. Their perspectives add a critical dimension to our understanding of history, war, and conflict. And an open exchange among Veterans, students, scholars and citizens serves not only to advance knowledge, but to enrich the greater good.
Our broad message to Brown’s existing Veteran community and to our incoming Veterans is that a support network – and a genuine interest in understanding the complexity of war and military service – will always be found here on College Hill.
To close, let me say that we talk often at Brown about free inquiry and free expression – among the core principles for which our Veterans serve and fight.
What we cannot forget is that it is these same principles that animate the vital conversations we engage in on the pressing issues of the day, like inequality and injustice.
And it is these the same principles that inspire the groundbreaking research we undertake, in pursuit of discoveries and solutions to the complex challenges of our time.
And so we will always convene here on November 11th. Because we honor the uncommon courage and immense sacrifices Veterans have made to defend this nation. Because we seek to understand their service. And because we stand ready to have their backs when they return home.