Student veterans reflect on Veterans day activities, College experience

The College offered a schedule of events on Nov. 11 to honor veterans, including tolling the Baker Tower bells and two lectures.

by Isabelle Han | 11/15/22 5:00am

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by Bruno Korbar / The Dartmouth

The College offered a number of events to honor Veterans Day on Nov. 11, starting with the raising of the American flag on the Green at 6:30 a.m. 

According to the College’s schedule, activities included a tolling of the Baker Tower bells at 11 a.m. and ended with a flag retreat and drill ceremony at sundown. Other events planned by the College included a five-mile run dedicated to late College President emeritus James Wright, a Marine Corps veteran who died in October, an exhibition at the Rauner Special Collections exploring American wars through archival objects and the event “On Character, Leadership Service, and the Unique Challenges of Our Time,” hosted by the Dickey Center for International Understanding on Thursday, Nov. 10. 

In addition, several student veterans went to Hanover High School for a Q&A session, and the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning hosted an event titled “Critical Dialogues: Experiences of Student Veterans” on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 

Leland Hemgren ’25, who served in the Army and continues to serve in the Army Reserve, said that Veterans Day provides a platform to share veteran experiences and break down  “preconceived notions.” 

“Veterans Day is an opportunity for veterans to communicate with people who haven’t served,” Hemgren said. 

David Ward ’25, who served as a hospitalman in the Navy, explained that he did not join the military to be acknowledged for his service, though he said it is “meaningful” to be appreciated. Similarly, Ryan Irving ’24, who served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps and is president of the Student Veterans Association, noted a sense of “guilt” with Veterans Day celebrations.

“I didn’t do anything extraordinary,” Irving said. “I showed up to work, similar to how a lot of people show up to work. But instead of working in the office, it was on the rocket launcher.” 

Despite this, both Irving and Ward cited the importance of recognizing the sacrifices made by veterans, as well as the importance of addressing the crisis of mental illness within the veteran community. For Ward, while there are many mental health resources available to veterans and students on campus, he said that students’ busy schedules are the biggest barrier to obtaining help. Ward added that the College’s recent decision to provide free, online counseling to students may alleviate some of the burden. 

Beyond this, Ward said that “the most important thing anyone can do…is just letting people know it’s okay to get help.”

Irving echoed this sentiment and encouraged others to reach out and acknowledge the sacrifices that veterans have made. 

“Veterans have a variety of issues after returning, whether it’s mental health issues or physical issues… There are dark sacrifices that impact your daily life,” Irving said. “No matter how vague your connection is, I guarantee — reaching out to somebody, they’re gonna appreciate it.” 

Beyond scheduled programming Veterans Day, the College also has several other initiatives to support veterans, according to Ward. For instance, he said that veterans have a specific undergraduate dean who they can go to for academic support and support in the transition between active service and becoming a student.  

Another system of support available to veterans is the Dartmouth Student Veterans Association. According to Irving, the group is meant to “provide a foundation” to help student veterans feel more understood and “less alienated.” In addition to advocating for policy changes within the College, Irving said that the association also offers a social space for student veterans. 

Hemgren, the association’s vice president, emphasized that the Student Veterans Association helps students connect with people they know and trust. 

As a “small community” of around 15-20 students at a time on campus, Ward said that he appreciates that the veteran community is a close group that provides solidarity for students who have served in the military. 

“I told the vets that came in this year, ‘we were all in your shoes at one point,’” he said. “The biggest value that I had was supporting [each other] and just making sure we had a good quality of life.” 

Beyond the College, the federal government has measures in place, such as the G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, that support veterans. Specifically, these programs provide financial support as well as guidance through the college application process. 

According to Hemgren, the late President Wright “really pushed for student veterans to come to Dartmouth.” By helping to promote the G.I. Bill and creating the Yellow Ribbon Program, Hemgren said that Wright’s legacy is one that includes facilitating the presence of student veterans on Dartmouth’s campus. 

“[Wright] is a hero to all of us,” Ward said. “He’s the reason any of us are here.”

Despite the College’s “tremendous support,” there is room for improvement that Irving has identified, including increasing the number of student veterans on campus. 

“The only policy that I really want to change is to try to bring more veterans here,” said Irving. “One, I think it’s the best school on the planet for veterans — the culture here, the location, the students — but also to be able to bring a more diverse perspective to the campus.” 

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