Yale honors military veterans and the spirit of service
Talk with a hundred different military veterans and you’ll get a hundred different stories, says Yale Law School (YLS) student Michael Sullivan. But in each of those stories there’s a common theme: an individual's pledge to serve a cause greater than themselves, often at great personal expense.
Sullivan’s own military story has no roots in a family tradition of martial service, he told a lively Woolsey Hall assembly on Friday, during the university’s annual Veterans Day celebration. He first thought about the military as a high school senior eager to get away from home. And he’s grateful he did: his subsequent service in the U.S. Marine Corps, from 2013 to 2018, which included combat duty in Iraq, made him the person he is today, he said.
Sullivan ’24 J.D. described days when, as a combat aircrew chief, he wondered if the next enemy attack would be his last, and other days when he’d look down at cities destroyed by airstrikes. And he shared the difficulties of post-service life. There were times when he wondered if he’d left part of himself in the desert and whether he’d ever find new purpose in life.
In time, he has. Now studying international law and policy at Yale Law, Sullivan credited an undergraduate professor who’d convinced him that he brought important perspective to an international relations course, and the faculty at YLS for recognizing the unique value that veterans bring to the university community.
“I am continually humbled and inspired by those with whom I served and by the veterans whom I’ve met since hanging up my uniform,” he said.
During Friday’s annual ceremony, moved indoors from Hewett Quadrangle in anticipation of rain, members of the Yale community honored all U.S. military veterans, especially the Yalies who once served in the armed services or who wear a military uniform today. In addition to Sullivan, Yale President Peter Salovey and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal ’73 J.D., a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, paid public tribute to the spirit of service and sacrifice.
At Yale, Salovey said, that spirit dates to the university’s founding, and is inscribed in its 1701 charter. The call to service, “has been answered, dutifully and with distinction, by generations of Yale students, faculty, staff, and alumni for over three centuries,” he said, noting Nathan Hale’s (B.A. 1773) proud sacrifice of his life during the American Revolution.
In times of war and times of peace, the desire to look beyond self interest in service of the common good has inspired countless service members as they sought to preserve the security and welfare of fellow citizens.
“I am deeply grateful for the veterans here with us today who have given of themselves to better the world — and for the cadets and midshipmen of our ROTC programs who have similarly felt, and answered, the call to duty,” Salovey said.
Such commitment, he said, is particularly critical during a period of global turbulence, as conflicts escalate, democracies backslide, and “a spirit of division around the world seems stronger than ever.”
“Yet today we look around this room and this community and what we see is the spirt of service,” he said.
During Friday’s ceremonies, Risa Sodi, assistant dean of academic affairs for Yale College and director of the Eli Whitney Students Program — which brings to campus nontraditional students with exceptional backgrounds — was honored with the Veterans Day Tribute Award for her support of students who have come to Yale as undergraduates after military service.
Members of the Veterans Day Brass Ensemble, which included students from the Yale School of Music, played the National Anthem and taps, and performed a musical tribute to the men and women of each of the armed services.
Per tradition, veterans and current service members stood or stepped forward as the signature song of their branch of the military rang out.