By Nick Erickson
The George Washington University community gathered to commemorate Veterans Day and honor its military-affiliated alumni, students, faculty and staff on Thursday at Kogan Plaza. On the day set aside annually to pause and reflect the sacrifices of service members, event speakers urged the importance of recognizing every voice in the military community.
Andy Sonn, director of Military and Veteran Student Services, noted that this Veterans Day falls on the same week as GW’s seventh-annual Diversity Summit. Dr. Sonn said the university strives to honor each military-affiliated community member’s individuality while serving for a common good.
“GW’s military community members embody GW’s diverse student population in terms of their intersectionality of multiple identities, their service and life experiences and their commitment to improving the university, local, regional, national and global communities,” Dr. Sonn said.
Shaunda Thompson, an Army veteran and career coach at the Center for Career Services, was the guest speaker. Ms. Thompson, a Black woman who is also the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and wife to an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, gave a brief history of women and minorities in the armed forces, most notably when women were fully integrated as members of the U.S. Army after the dismantling of the Women’s Army Corps in 1978.
This historical rundown illustrated the importance in recognizing the sacrifices and stories of all service members, as Ms. Thompson noted she stood on the shoulders of former service members—such as Mary Green, Anna Morrison, Johnnie Murphy and Alice Young—who fought segregation.
“Veterans are a diverse group of individuals who work towards one goal to defend and protect this country and its citizens,” said Ms. Thompson, who also gave a shout out to the sacrifices military dependents make. “Each veteran has multiple identities, and each veteran brings unique talents, perspectives and abilities.”
David Murray, president of the student group GW Veterans, recently put up a map at the Military Community Center at 2035 F St. NW and encouraged military-affiliated students to place a pin—color-coordinated based on branch of service—where they have served or lived. Mr. Murray said he reflects on the meaning of service every time he walks by the dotted-up map.
“Even if your pin is in the same place on our map, your experiences are your own,” said Mr. Murray, a senior neuroscience student who was a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy from 2012-2017. “Your service was unique to you and was a unique part of your story. But I’d like to think that if we ask any veteran to reflect on their career, we would find some common themes. I think each of them could tell you of a time they stepped up and decided to become a leader.”
With nearly 1,600 military-affiliated students currently enrolled, GW has a proud history of educating individuals from all walks of life bound together by the common purpose of serving the country.
President Thomas LeBlanc noted how a GW alumnus, Don A. Balfour, became the first veteran to use the GI Bill in 1944 and that GW is a strong supporter of the Yellow Ribbon Program. Dr. LeBlanc also called for a moment of silence for alumnus Colin Powell, M.B.A. ’71, a four-star general and former secretary of state who died on Oct. 18.
Dr. LeBlanc, whose father was in the Air Force Reserve and whose brothers served in the U.S. Marine Corps, said that educating service members and their families is a deeply rooted GW tradition that the is a source of pride for the university.
“Our university values our military students, faculty, staff and alumni populations, as well as the many members of the GW community who support them,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “GW student veterans continue their service upon graduation, whether by working in Congress or other branches of government, schools, nonprofits, hospitals and many other essential institutions to help teach, train and care for others.”
Members of the GW community were invited to plant flags after the ceremony to recognize veterans in their own lives. This year’s Veterans Day of Service will take place both virtually and in-person Saturday, Nov. 20.