Saint Leo University observed Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 10, with a commemoration held in front of the “For Those Who Serve” statue. The ceremony saw a large turnout which consisted of students, professors, and military members and their families.
Dr. Michael Moorman, professor of Computer Science, commenced the celebration with a few opening remarks, shortly followed by the presentation of colors by Saint Leo University’s U.S. Army ROTC. The opening remarks were accompanied by a moving performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Criminal Justice major, Amber Mott.
Father Kyle Smith, the chaplain of University Ministry, offered the invocation followed by this year’s student veteran speakers, Private First Class in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2009, Eric Cox, and Petty Officer Second Class in the U.S. Navy Reserves from 2003 to 2013, Jennifer Harman.
When asked about how she feels to be a veteran attending Saint Leo, a university which places strong emphasis on our American heroes, Harman stated, in comparison to previous schools she’s attended, she has never had the opportunity to connect with student veterans until she came to Saint Leo’s University campus. She went on to state that one of her objectives as a member of the Student Veterans of America is to try to get the students not physically on campus connected as well.
Vice president Quinn provided welcoming remarks before enthusiastically introducing this year’s guest speaker, Congressman Gus Bilirakis, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Florida’s Twelfth Congressional District. Congressman Bilirakis, who is also the Vice Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Co-Chairman of the Military Veterans Caucus, gave a patriotic and heart-warming speech centered on the true American heroes of the United States, our veterans.
In the opening of his speech, he described the stirring incident of how his close friend, Everett Alvarez, a former U.S. Navy Commander who endured longer than eight years as a Vietnam prisoner of war, met actor John “The Duke” Wayne at a reception in 1973 held by President Nixon in honor of former Vietnam prisoners of war. While sitting next to Wayne during the dinner, Alvarez noticed that the actor was teary-eyed and asked why he was crying, to which Wayne responded, “because you’re the hero, I just played one on TV.”
Following this anecdote, Congressman Bilirakis stressed the importance of “[making]sure that our children recognize that our true American heroes are the veterans, not the movie actors, or the athletes and certainly not the politicians.”
When asked what he thinks Saint Leo students can do to stay more informed on Veterans issues, he replied that they should have a link to the legislative process, particularly a national level. He encourages student veterans to keep in touch with his office because their input is valued since they are the future.
Regarding Saint Leo’s annual Veterans’ Day commemoration, Congressman Bilirakis found it wonderful how much importance the university places on the national holiday, and he was also impressed with the number of veterans who attend Saint Leo whether they are students on ground or online.
The event concluded with a lovely rendition of “Arlington” by Management major, Eddie Gemma and then “God Bless America,” performed by English-Professional Writing major, Olivia Callahan. As the song encouraged, “let us all be grateful for a land so fair,” as well as our veteran heroes.