USD honors student veterans

The lone pine tree and a group of unique University of San Diego students gathered Thursday afternoon to celebrate a day that unites thePhoto Courtesy of Ryan Blythstone/USDm with the nation: Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is celebrated every year on Nov. 11. It is a day our nation honors those who took an oath to protect our nation from enemies both foreign and domestic. We honor them with parades, discounts, and thanks.

Thursday, Nov. 10 was not Veterans Day, but it was a very important day for some USD students. Not only was it the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps, it was the second annual Veterans Day ceremony at USD.  

Many USD veteran students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered in the courtyard between Founders and Camino Halls. The ceremony was small but full of emotion and symbolic meaning.

Derek Abbey honorably served in the Marine Corps for 23 years. He is the USD veteran student services coordinator, as well as a USD alumnus. Abbey coordinated the ceremony along with the USD Student Veterans Organization (SVO).

Abbey spoke about the significance of the ceremony location and how it exemplifies the relationship USD has with its veteran population.

“This specific location was chosen because of the [pine] tree in the middle of the courtyard between Camino and Founders,” Abbey said. “I call it the veteran tree. It was planted in 1973 by student veterans at USD in recognition of those lost in vietnam. It is a little unusual if you actually take time to notice the tree, in the sense that it is allowed to grow freely. It is unusual for USD courtyard landscaping because everything is manicured perfectly, but this tree grows freely and has grown freely since 1973.”

The pine tree is much like USD student veterans. It is not quite like the other plants that surround it. It has imperfections, is a little weathered, and is rough around the edges, yet it stands tall and thrives.

During the ceremony guest speakers such as SVO President Francisco Garcia, a senior at USD and Marines veteran, Dr. Andrew Allen, and Jack McGrory all took a moment to honor veterans.

Francisco Garcia spoke about the many programs SVO has created to build a better relationship between students and veterans at USD, such as Soldiers who Salsa.

“Soldiers Who Salsa (SWS) is its own organization,” Garcia said. “SWS serves wounded, ill and injured military service members and their families by incorporating therapeutic social dancing. The SVO hosts the salsa nights and SWS provides the instructors. With the support of SWS the SVO aims to provide a safe environment for student veterans and their families to socialize, relieve stress, and seek help if needed. We also strive to make it inclusive and welcome all students at USD to participate in these events. We hope that these events will help ease the transition from military life to life at USD for veterans.”

Garcia also spoke about the significance of Veterans Day to him now that he is a veteran.

“[Before I served] Veterans Day used to be free pancakes or doughnuts for veterans on Veterans Day and a quick thank you for your service,” Garcia said. “Now that I am a veteran, it’s completely changed. Now, I see the struggles people go through and what we should actually be thinking about on Veterans Day and honoring those veterans because they did go through tremendus obstacles.”

Dr. Andrew Allen, Vice President and Provost at USD, discussed the significance of Veterans Day for him as a son of a veteran.

“As a son of a WWII veteran, I know the sacrifices veterans make,” Allen said. “We should thank them and help them succeed here at USD and into the future.”

Guest speaker CEO of La Jolla MJ Management, Inc., former San Diego City Manager, and Marine veteran, Jack McGrory, spoke about Veterans Day and the times like Vietnam where being a veteran was not considered honorable.

“Being a veteran was not always cool,” McGrory said. “There were times it wasn’t celebrated.”

McGrory recalled his own experience walking around town when long hair and beards were popular, much like today, and remembered how he stood out with his short, military-issued haircut.

“We were easy to pick out,” McGrory said. “We didn’t quite fit in.”

McGrory also explained the value of education for veterans and that it is vital for them to take advantage of all the benefits they earned through their service.

With new benefits like the Post 9-11 GI Bill, Montgomery Bill, Yellow Ribbon program, Vocational Rehab, and countless other scholarships for veterans, it is easier to obtain higher education for today’s veterans than ever before.

Many veterans like Marine Noel Ramirez, a sophomore at USD and combat veteran, explained some difficulties he faced juggling his identity as a veteran and student.

“Being a veteran, we are a little older than the average students, and you do get frustrated at times with the mentality of other individuals,” Ramirez said. “At the same time, you have to understand that you went through that too, only your experience going through that was a little different, and you might have had different priorities.”

Ramirez did focus on one key aspect where student and veterans can find some common ground.

“Although we are at different stages in life, we are going through one stage together,” Ramirez said. “We are all trying to get a degree and pass our classes. So being a veteran and student do collide a little, when it comes to aspect of life, because what some students see as important or frustrating sometimes you have been through it, and you know that it’s not that important or frustrating, it’s okay. Sometimes you can actually give advice, and that is the best feeling that I get. Letting people know it’s going to be okay, and I can help. You can offer your experience and guidance.”

Jennifer Castro, Navy veteran, mother, wife, and junior at USD, explained how she combines all her roles and helps other women on campus.

“It’s about planning everything from my study patterns, family time, funds, and prioritize what can be put aside,” Castro said. “For me I kind of feel selfish sometimes when I have to put aside mommy duties, but realizing that my daughter is able to see mom and dad in that type of study setting is important and will reflect on her in the future. So I am pushing through that right now even when it is hard. It is important to reach out to other women and let them know you are not alone and you can get through it. My husband was deployed when I first started here at USD. I know the mental struggle and how that pertains to this and now I overcame it, but not to say it’s complete because I have not graduated yet. Being an influence to other women and building a support group is very important to me. I feel reaching out to other women is helping them.”

Unlike the lone pine tree, veterans belong to a brotherhood that forever bonds them. When a veteran meets another veteran, there is an unspoken understanding. A relationship that only those who have served will be able to understand.

As we look back on Veterans Day, we remember those who have served and continue to serve. We are all honored to call them classmates and share our own bond as USD students. We thank them and we honor their sacrifices.


Written by veteran Jennifer Givens, Asst. Feature Editor