Emory University celebrated Veterans Day this year with speeches from Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Ravi Bellamkonda and Emory University Hospital Chief Executive Officer Matt Wain, a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot, who was the keynote speaker. The Nov. 11 event was held inside the Cannon Chapel and members of Emory faculty, Emory Students, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Emory Students and family members gathered at the ceremony.
Bellamkonda was proud to state that Emory has nearly 200 military-affiliated students this year. Bellamkonda, who is from India, shared his story of why he appreciates the military’s work and his appreciation of his “adopted home.” He explained that he loves America’s “optimism” and “belief in the individual and in communities” like Emory.
“I love the idea of a country where each of us has the right to pursue happiness,” Bellamkonda said. “This is why I was so proud to become a citizen in 2005 … and I imagine that similar deep love inspires many who serve our country’s military to defend our nation’s highest ideals.”
Wain, who served 20 years in the U.S. military, kicked off his speech by expressing appreciation for members of the Emory community who serve and are planning to serve.
“It really is wonderful to see so many of you here and celebrating our veterans, our veterans’ families and those Americans around us who really want to, especially those who served or those who still serve,” Wain said.
He focused his speech on the reasons why people choose to join the military.
“We remember so many of the wonderful things that caused us to want to serve and to represent this great nation of ours,” Wain said. “Find a veteran and ask them why they served. I think you’ll get a gleam in their eye of the day when they were most young, when they took a moment to be able to say ‘I will.’”
Recounting stories, Wain told the audience about not only the sacrifices made by military members, but also by the soldiers’ families. He discussed his friends Bill, who served three tours in Afghanistan, and Bob, who left school at 16 and lied to the military about his age to serve in World War II.
He also highlighted the work that people outside of the military do to help veterans transition back into civilian life, noting that although they have never served in uniform, they “served our veterans at a critical time in their life, helping veterans and their families transition into the civilian sector and separate from active military service to continue their legacy of service throughout the world.”
Wain finished his speech with his thoughts on how service changes after leaving the military.
“Service never stops, it changes, ” Wain said. “We all have to take care of our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, humanity.”
Students, including Felix Barth (25C), attended the event. Barth, who is an ROTC cadet at Emory through a cross-enrollment agreement with the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the Wheel that his father, who is a veteran, inspired him to join the military.
“I’ve always respected him for his service and I wanted to do my part to do service for this country,” Barth said.
Managing being an ROTC cadet and an Emory undergraduate student is difficult, Bart said. He has to wake up early and go to Georgia Tech or Dobbins Air Force Base for military training on top of coursework.
University faculty also gathered on the Quad. Senior Associate Director of Graduate Admissions Michael Walker, who works with veteran students, attended the event to support the Emory students who choose to join the military. He added that he felt connected to the community because of his dad, who served in the Marines.
Walker discussed the difficulty some veterans face while transitioning out of the military into college.
“For the veteran community, it is now about making the decision to transition,” Walker said. “It’s a very different career path than they have known for many years. They typically have had a path laid out for them in terms about what their day-to-day duties are gonna be, and to now break out of that, there is a little bit of a transition for some of the veterans.”
Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance Executive Center Administrator Andrew West (93C) told the Wheel he was activated from the Marine Corps reserves twice and served in Afghanistan and California. West joined the reserves after he received his graduate degree from Georgia State University and only retired in July 2020.
“From a young age, I wanted to be a marine, and when I got out of graduate school, I contacted a recruiter almost immediately,” West said. “I have always admired marines and wanted to be a part of that team. I love America, as everyone else here does. This is my way to give back to the country.”