On Thursday, Nov. 11, the New Paltz Department for Veterans and Military Services held a celebratory toast for Veterans Day.
It was the department’s 8th annual celebration in observance of the holiday, although the toast was standing in place for the military ball. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the department was not able to have their usual ball, but enjoyed the toast to still be able to honor Veterans Day in a very meaningful way.
The event held special importance for military-affiliated students. Active service students, military dependents and veteran students were all in attendance. Veteran and active service alumni attended, as well. Many school officials came to show support.
The turnout was a gesture of respect for not just Veterans Day, but what that day means specifically at New Paltz.
Jason Gilliland, the head of the Veteran and Military Services Department, hosted the event. He began the department in 2014 and is incredibly proud of the school and how far they have come. This year, SUNY New Paltz received the honor of being ranked as one of the Top Ten nation-wide military-friendly colleges.
“We take a lot of pride in supporting them,” Gilliland says about military-affiliated students.
College support for veterans and military students is incredibly important for many reasons. After serving in the armed forces, people often struggle with what to do next in their lives.
Not having a plan or having support for a plan, mental and physical health struggles or even just feeling as if you are out of place assimilating into society after service can be issues faced upon discharge or retirement.
For veterans, the next step in life often involves higher education, which can be hard to achieve.
“For some veterans, reentry into civilian life brings some special challenges and having an education is a great way to bring them back into broader and broader society,” President Christian said to the Oracle.
Military-friendly colleges make this difficult transition easier. New Paltz is doing everything a college can to support these veterans and military-affiliated students. The Veterans and Military Services Department continues to advocate for the rights of its members. Advisory help, application fee waivers and the tight-knit community available in the department are ways they show support. Even the school having the attitude of wanting to help goes a long way.
New Paltz is in a unique position due to its proximity to West Point. We have many students who are actively in the armed forces who attend training there.
Sam-Karis Oghenekome is a New Paltz student who joined the Army in 2019. He has to balance school alongside service and mentioned that the professors here take special care to be understanding of the time he needs to take for drill training.
“They’ve been helpful with me managing my academics as well as military complications,” he says.
Not only are there military-affiliated students, there are also staff members and alumni who served. Beyond those who were in uniform, spouses and children of military personnel struggle with challenges due to service, as well. At New Paltz, many students are military-affiliated by spouse or family ties.
“Some [of our students] are dependents who are financing their education, all or in part by benefits that a parent received for having served in the military,” President Christan added. “And so I think it’s an important part to not lose sight of one of the pieces that were emphasized in the toast on Thursday is that the families, the children, the spouses of veterans who serve, also in some respect serve.”
This support can be difficult to find from higher education institutions. New Paltz supporting not only those in uniform, but also the families of those who serve, shows just how much they value supporting all people including veterans. Toasts and celebrations like the one held Thursday are vital in providing this warm and safe academic environment.
The event was put together to honor the service and sacrifice of veterans.
The department shows nothing but love to those it serves, and this event was another testament of that, as was this year’s Top Ten ranking.
Gilliland, President Christian and special keynote speaker Navy veteran Juan Franco Guzman all gave speeches. The student workers in the department were recognized, and everyone was thanked for their service. The event ended with an important toast and a social hour.
Spaces where members of a community can come together are essential, especially when supported by the school. Toasts of champagne and sparkling cider may have been symbolic, but they had real importance.
Raising a glass on Veterans Day to thank those who served is vital, and at New Paltz, we are proud to raise the toast.