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Emory to host 15th-annual Veterans Day ceremony to honor service members’ contributions
veterans ceremony

The Emory community will gather Friday, Nov. 10, to honor veterans and their contributions. The event includes a flag ceremony with members of the Emory veterans community, as well as a guest speaker and moment of silence.

— Kay Hinton, Emory Photo/Video

Since 2009, the Emory Veterans Day Ceremony has honored those who have valiantly served in the United States Uniformed Services with a solemn ceremony on the Quad. This year, the 15th annual ceremony will be held Friday, Nov. 10, at 11 a.m. All faculty, staff, students, alumni and Emory community members are invited to attend.

The idea for a ceremony began in 2008. Andrew West was walking through campus around Veterans Day and realized that Emory needed a ceremony to honor those who have served. A year later, on a drizzly November morning, campus leaders, West and a small group — including the Emory ROTC cadets — created an enduring ceremony.

West now serves as co-chair of the Emory Veterans Employee Network, an organization aimed at increasing the visibility of Emory’s veterans and helping connect them with resources. After graduating from Emory College of Arts and Sciences in 1993, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for 20 years. He stresses the importance of the Emory community honoring veterans and the sacrifices they make to protect Americans.

“We can’t ever take for granted what we have because it can be taken away,” says West. “It takes men and women who are willing to sacrifice themselves and protect us from the evil forces that are out there. That’s why it’s important that we have this event each year, and we have alumni, students, faculty and staff come together.”

This year’s ceremony will feature a variety of campus and military representatives, along with involvement from Emory students across a variety of disciplines and military backgrounds. Remarks will be delivered by President Gregory L. Fenves and Ravi Thadhani, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University. Maj. Gen. Burke W. Whitman, who retired from the United States Marine Corps, will deliver the keynote speech. 

Liam Wilkie, a senior studying philosophy, politics and law in Emory College, will join West at the ceremony as a member of the Honor Guard. As a Marine Corporal, Wilkie says he is proud to be part of a ceremony that honors the past, present and future of the Armed Service branches in the United States.

“You kind of want to treat it like a series of chained novels. You’re writing the next chapter, so you want to make it a better place for those who are going to come after you,” says Wilkie. “Keeping up that tradition reminds you that you’re part of something that was before you and something that will continue after you. But you’re also writing your own chapter.”

Patrick Forrestal, a graduate student in Goizueta Business School’s MBA program, knows the honor of contributing to a larger story. His father, grandfather and step-grandfather all served in the Armed Forces, and that familial history of service inspired him to attend the Naval Academy and serve in the Marine Corps for five years. Forrestal, who serves as the president of the Emory Veterans Association, will emcee this year’s ceremony. 

“Veterans Day is a good time to reflect on your own service to the country,” says Forrestal. “Now that I’m a veteran but still serving in the Marine Corps Reserves, it helps me reflect on how I’m contributing to this community, and I think that’s what others can take from it too.”

Some participants in this year’s ceremony will get to put their training at Emory to practice.

Will Gurtowski, a master of divinity student in Candler School of Theology, will offer the invocation during the ceremony. Currently in his seventh year of service with the Army National Guard, he is also studying to become an Army chaplain.

Gurtowski takes the role of providing spiritual support to service members seriously.

“To be in the chaplaincy position, it’s very special,” says Gurtowski. “My job is not only to serve, but to also make sure that the people we serve are in a good spiritual place and they have a positive mentality, and they find meaning in what they do. It’s very fulfilling for me to be able to help people on their journeys.”

On campus, there exists a deep reverence for service members in the community and a great appreciation to Emory for recognizing the veteran community for so many years.

Bernice Stratton, who began serving as a major in the Army in 2001, is a doctor of nursing practice student in the Family/Emergency Nurse Practitioner Program at Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. This year, she will be in the Honor Guard at the ceremony along with Wilkie, West and others. Stratton says, as a veteran, she feels incredibly included in all Emory has to offer, and that the Veterans Day Ceremony is proof of that.

“I think it’s particularly honorable for Emory to be so inclusive and accepting of all the patchwork we have across the United States, and to include the service members and the military, and help us be represented,” says Stratton. “For the last 15 years, Emory has made the time and effort to recognize that many United States citizens have raised their right hand and taken an oath to defend the United States. It makes me very proud to be both an Emory student and an Armed Services member, and to be able to represent both institutions.”

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