Student veterans reflect on service, support, sacrifice

Four Brown students who are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces shared their thoughts on how military service has given them a unique perspective in the classroom and in the community.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Although their individual experiences differ vastly, students at Brown who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces share a sense of pride and a passion for serving the greater good. They also enrich the academic experience of every member of the Brown community, which benefits from the unique lived experiences and perspectives that the University's student veterans contribute to campus.

On Veterans Day 2020 — as Brown celebrated a $20 million gift from U.S. Army veteran and Brown parent Joseph P. Healey to provide crucial support for Brown’s plan to double the number of student veterans enrolled as undergraduates by 2024 — four student veterans reflected on how military service affected them, and how they use their past experiences to shape their everyday contributions to the classroom and community at Brown.

My name is Tiara Young and I served for five years as an avionics calibration technician in the Marine Corps. For me, Veterans Day is a reminder of not only my time in service but also of those who served this country before me. I am a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and come from a history of service members. My great-great-grandfather voluntarily served in World War I when Indigenous peoples were not yet claimed citizens of the United States. I had zero obligations before I put pen to paper, other than I knew I wanted nothing more than to be a Marine and serve my country just like many of the men and women in my family have. My time in the Corps allowed me to gain a newfound perspective of the world around me, and how I want to continue to serve others.

I gained unforgettable experiences that allowed me to build a foundation of what it truly means to be a great leader. I learned confidence during the unknown, a bearing that is seamlessly unbreakable, and most importantly inherited one night on November 10th when Marines around the world put on our dress blues to celebrate our birthday. The years I spent serving were undeniably challenging, but I chose to use this time as a constant stride toward growth. I met people from all over the world, each with our own different experiences and perspectives, that I can now call my lifelong friends. Although I enjoyed my time as a Marine, my experiences lead me to question how I could reconstruct myself and become directly involved with communities that have impacted me. Now that I am at Brown I am grateful for the opportunities that made life limitless, and to appreciate the values I learned in the Corps that modeled what it means to be selfless.

Tiara Young Class of 2023, Biology
Tiara Young, Class of 2023, Biology
 

On November 11, South Koreans exchange stick-shaped snacks with their friends and families. As a first-generation immigrant from Korea, November 11 used to mean nothing more than a day that I get to have a lot of sweets. It’s been seven years since November 11 became a significant part of who I am today.

On this day, I take time to reflect on what it means to serve and appreciate the sacrifice of my brothers and sisters in arms. Through highs and lows, their willingness to support and guide me in the midst of their suffering reflects the true definition of sacrifice. In high school, people identified me as a foreigner or ESL student; in the Army, soldiers in my unit called me brother and accepted me as a valuable member of the team. The profound meaning of service appeared as I experienced unconditional support and sacrifice from my brothers and sisters in arms. I believe that it’s now my responsibility to serve others as I have been served. Veterans Day is a reminder of this duty.

I’ve been graced with peers and faculty members at Brown who value and support my passion for serving others. The international and public affairs concentration teaches me the ways to serve people around the world and in our country with my military experience and East Asian background. I’m proud to be part of a community that values service and the contributions of non-traditional students.

Seth Bae Class of 2022, International and Public Affairs
Seth Bae, Class of 2022, International and Public Affairs
 

Earning the title of “veteran” has had a meaningful impact on my life. It is a title I am most proud of. When I think about what it means to have served, I think about service before self. The Marine Corps takes pride in being there for one another and always having each other’s backs. It is about shared values, honor, courage and commitment. It is taking an oath that we, myself and fellow veterans, will “support and defend the Constitution.” Lastly, it is about sacrifice. It is about serving others for the common goal of living in a free world, made possible by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I am proud to have served after, and alongside with, some of America’s greatest and bravest men and women. My five years in the Marine Corps has improved my leadership abilities, encouraged my personal growth, and allowed me to become a role model. I have gained the utmost confidence in my abilities to excel in my professional life, education, and career, which would have never been made possible without my time in the military. My goal while at Brown is to teach my fellow students about the military and what it means to be a veteran. I hope my story can inspire others, as well as simply spark a conversation.

Katie Yetter Class of 2022, Cognitive Neuroscience
Katie Yetter, Class of 2022, Cognitive Neuroscience
 

When I first joined the Marine Corps, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. I knew I wanted to travel and be part of something greater than myself. Growing up as a lower-class kid from New York City, the military seemed like the best option after graduating from high school, so I took a leap.

As a Marine Embassy Security Guard, I served for a total of three years in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Stockholm, Sweden. The job itself quickly became routine, but my learning never stopped. Interacting with different people from across the socioeconomic spectrum taught me more than I could ever put into words, but here are just a few.

I learned to be kind without reason or expectation. Positivity is a powerful force and a little certainly goes a long way.

I learned that life really is what you make of it. You may have a little or you may have a lot, but it’s what you do with it that counts.

Most importantly, I learned that we are all in this together. Cliche as that may be, it’s hard to think of a better phrase. We tend to think of ourselves as individuals, and we are, but I also believe that we are a part of the same whole. Akin to cells and organs in a body, we all have a role to play in this world and if one is suffering, we are all worse off.

I view holidays not just as a time for celebration, but also reflection. On Veterans Day, I choose to reflect on the service, history and legacy of myself and my peers — the good and the bad — and I do my best to imagine and work toward a better future.

Andre Dunkley Class of 2023, Sociology/Organizational Studies
Andre Dunkley Class of 2023, Sociology/Organizational Studies
 

Photos of Tiara Young and Seth Bae by Nick Dentamaro / Brown University.