On April 4th, 1968, a freedom fighter was gunned down as he left a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated.
On June 6th, 1944, thousands of freedom fighters were gunned down as they left their landing craft and stormed the cliffs and beachheads of Normandy, France. The American-led liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany had begun.
On both dates, great Americans knowingly placed their souls God's hands and died fighting for the freedom of others. Be it the military and ideological liberation of Europe from Nazi rule, or the social and political liberation of minorities in American society, these citizens made the ultimate sacrifice so that others might know freedom. Such sacrifice is worthy of the most profound recognition and appreciation.
Dartmouth College understands the importance of recognizing the efforts and sacrifice of Dr. King. Despite the fact that New Hampshire remains the only state in the nation which does not officially recognize King's birthday, January 13th is a Dartmouth College holiday.
As a New Hampshire native, I am ashamed of my state for its political recalcitrance. As a Dartmouth student, I laud my College for recognizing a great man's sacrifice in the name of freedom and equality. I am proud to be a member of the Dartmouth community.
But Tuesday my feelings were reversed. Tuesday I was proud of the great state of New Hampshire. And Tuesday I was deeply ashamed of Dartmouth College. Tuesday was Veterans day.
Two days ago, the State of New Hampshire, and indeed the entire nation, celebrated a holiday on which American veterans are remembered and revered. And two days ago, Dartmouth College quietly and complacently turned its back on those Dartmouth alumni who have worn a uniform in service to their country.
I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for Dartmouth's decision to not celebrate Veteran's day. While our term system leaves little room to accommodate any holidays, the College makes institutional scheduling commitments for the Fridays which fall before the Homecoming and Greek Key weekends, and for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. While Dartmouth's academic schedule may be tight, it difficult to believe that it could not be changed to accommodate yet another important day of remembrance.
Is Dartmouth, famed for its focus on the liberal arts, making a tacit statement that football games and spring parties are more important than recognizing those who fought for ideals such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Is Dartmouth, a proverbial ivory tower of intellectual and moral authority, judging the value of King's sacrifice to be more important to this nation than the hundred of thousands individual sacrifices made by women and men in uniform?
I do not believe that either case is true. The issue at hand is certainly not a philosophical debate over which events or whose sacrifices have more moral or historical significance. What is important, however, it the fact that the students, faculty, and administration of Dartmouth College have forgotten Veterans' Day. We have forgotten that members of the Dartmouth Community "went forth from the lone and silent North, and they strove, and they fought, and they died."
It is in our forgetting that I am most ashamed.
I do not believe the old adage that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. As an American citizen and a member of this college community, however, I believe that those who fail to study and value the past loose sight of the idealism and sacrifice upon which our present experience, freedom, and potential are built. When we loose sight of the past, we loose more than the analytic power of historical perspective. Indeed, we loose sight of what makes us ourselves.
Because Dartmouth College did not celebrate Veterans' Day, I implore you to take the time to remember it for yourself. Outside the Hinman Boxes on the wall of the Hanover Inn, inscribed in New Hampshire granite, are the names of those Dartmouth Alumni who fought and died in Korea and the Second World War. Below their names are lyrics from the second verse of the Alma Mater, a verse which traditionally is only sung during times of war:
"The Mother keeps them in her heart and guards their altar flame. The still north remembers them, the hill winds know their name. And the granite of New Hampshire keeps the record of their fame. "
Etched in stone, these lyrics embody a veteran's hope that she or he will not be forgotten, and they secure a College's promise to remember and honor them. It is a hope that stands, and a promise the Dartmouth community has failed to honor.
Today is two days after Veteran's day. Take the time to read those names, to learn the seldom-heard words of the Alma Mater. Consider the question of sacrifice, and the ideals for which Dartmouth's own veterans fought. And remember; guard their altar flame. In the strength of our memories and idealism lies the strength of our community.