Date November 11, 2016
Media Contact

Veterans Day ceremony at Brown calls for unity, reflection

A crowd near the flagpole on the College Green processed to the tune of bagpipes and patriotic salutes as Brown’s annual ceremony to honor service members stepped off on Friday, Nov. 11.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Falling in line behind an American flag and color guard presented by the Patriot Battalion Army ROTC, members of the Brown community processed to the Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle for a noontime Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11 that included remarks on the importance of unity, an oath taking by new members of the military, and a reminder to honor those who preceded them.

U.S. military veterans both young and old joined the families of current service members along with students, faculty and staff from Brown, who stood firmly facing the podium.

In a week that saw the conclusion of one of the most contentious presidential elections in memory — and one that has left many Americans divided on issues and perspectives — student veteran and Brown senior Michael Zaskey emphasized the importance of unity.

“Looking around here today, I’m humbled to see so many people from so many different backgrounds and upbringings gathered together because we share a respect for our military and our veterans,” said Zaskey, a neuroscience concentrator at Brown.

The West Springfield, Massachusetts, native said that important work needs to be done to tell the stories of veterans. And after praising the diversity of talents and roles within the veteran community, Zaskey ended his speech on an uplifting note.

“The nearly six years I was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army will remain one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Zaskey said. “No one knows for certain what the future holds, but I can say to you today, without reservation, that I believe our shared values and beliefs can bridge any misunderstanding, conquer any obstacle and overcome any division.”

Zaskey’s remarks resonated with both Karen McNeil, program director in Brown’s Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs, and Rabbi Michelle Dardashti of the University’s Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life.

“The wide divide between the military and civilian world in this country is a significant problem, so the more that we can foster contact and awareness between the two populations, the better,” McNeil said.

“I was told by Michael Zaskey when he gave me this invitation that this was a day about both noting divides between civilian and soldier and also about gratitude,” Dardashti said. “I think what’s powerful is that we are in a week that we’re mourning a lot of divides.”

While the ceremony honored past members of the military, it also welcomed new members, as Brown undergraduates and ROTC participants Catherine Carignan and Caleb Walters formally took oaths to serve in the U.S. Army for eight years following graduation. 

Carignan, of Boise, Idaho, is a first-year student who intends to concentrate in Middle East studies. Walters, of Georgetown, Texas, is a third-year student in the Program in Liberal Medical Education. In a ceremony led by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Wingate, they each received a Patriot Battalion patch and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Wingate told the crowd that service members fight for the rights of all Americans as written in the Constitution — a reminder, he said, that every citizen is on the same side.

Craig Cole, command master chief at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, called attention to the declining ranks of volunteers for the U.S. Armed Forces, expressing his appreciation for those who choose to enlist and commending both Carignan and Walters for their decision to serve.

Brown President Christina Paxson expressed her appreciation for the service of all members, past and present, of the U.S. military, with a nod in particular to Brown’s student veterans.

“Whether to protect the values and the way of life that we cherish, defend those unable to defend themselves or advance peace and justice in the world, Brown veterans have truly distinguished themselves and made our University proud,” Paxson said.

Paxson highlighted Brown’s renewed Air Force and Naval ROTC opportunities and urged the audience to thank the veterans in their lives.

“Ask them about their service, what it means to them,” Paxson said. “You may hear a story or two that offers you a new perspective on patriotism, loyalty and sacrifice.”