This Monday was Veterans’ Day. Amidst busy schedules and other currents of debate on campus, the holiday went largely unacknowledged. A number of students were unaware, in fact, that it was a special day at all. Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson declared a day of solemnity observed in honor of those who served in World War I. In response to the efforts of a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks, President Dwight Eisenhower expanded the day to include recognition of veterans who had served the country.
Today, less than 10 percent of the population has served in the military in any capacity. For many in our generation, the concept of war is increasingly unfamiliar and unpalatable. How are we, as civilians and students, to respond to Veterans’ Day in this context?
Service in the United States military involves an oath to support and defend the Constitution. The American Constitution is the symbol of liberty, equal treatment under the law, and representative government based on our fundamental human dignity. Although at different times in American history the nation’s ideals have been imperfectly realized, its citizens still believe in and hold them dear.
Although military service offers tremendous individual benefits, there are also high costs. Throughout their time in uniform, soldiers sacrifice certainty, autonomy, personal identity, and creature comforts. Soldiers give up their ability to express their political beliefs openly, full participation in their families’ lives, and identification with society at large. The situations they encounter in the line of duty put their very lives at risk. How many among us would be willing to sacrifice that much?
Patriotism is not always the motivation for service, but our military men and women sign up to participate in something bigger than themselves. For better or worse, they write a blank check made payable to the United States for an amount of “up to and including their lives.” To the rest of the world, they represent the best of our country and its founding principles.
College is, on a broad scale, about discerning how we want to leave our mark on the world. The hopes, dreams, and future possibilities of undergraduates can be vivified by the example and wisdom of veterans. Our university prides itself on openness, diversity, and strong communal principles. There are even a number of veterans and members of their families among us. Keep your eye out for them, say thank you, and most importantly, be attentive to the exceptional experience and depth of perspective they contribute to and enrich our community with.
In honor of Veterans’ Day, slow down and remove yourself from the urgency of the college environment for a few moments. Reflect on what motivates you and what is meaningful in your life. It is important to remember all those who have served our country and to verbally and visibly acknowledge them.
An even more compelling testimony to their sacrifices is to live with an attitude of gratitude. Make the most of the opportunities to flourish and excel that come from living in a nation and society of freedom. Resolve to live a life worthy of the ideals for which they fought and committed their lives that they may be perpetually honored as they deserve. Happy Veteran’s Day.
Watson is a member of
the class of 2015.