Service Is at the Heart of America

At the Veterans Day ceremony on Memorial Steps, speakers extolled the importance of military and other service

Service is the key to what makes America strong. That was the overarching message in the keynote address of U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Susan Gannon, presented during the university’s Veterans Day ceremony held on November 11.

“If at least some part of our day isn’t spent in the service to others, no matter how small, I ask, what exactly are we doing with our time?” she said.

In 2019-20, Gannon was enrolled at the Fletcher School as part of the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) Military Fellow. In early March 2020, Gannon answered a call from President Anthony P. Monaco to join Tufts’ COVID-19 response team, as part of which Gannon helped to support both the university and Tufts Medical Center through the early days of the pandemic.

Other speakers at the Veterans Day ceremony included Monaco; School of Arts and Sciences Dean James Glaser; Captain Gresh Lattimore, Jr. USNR (Ret.), F65, F70, FG72, and chair of the  Advocates for Tufts ROTC; and Air Force Cadet Julia Graham, A22. Midshipman Dominic Haley, A23, served as master of ceremonies.

At the conclusion of the annual Pass the Flag ceremony on the Memorial Steps, the American flag was presented to Richard Lerner, Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Here are four takeaways from Gannon’s address to the cadets and midshipmen of the Tufts Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC, students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

The pandemic showed what service means. The pandemic “provided a unique opportunity to witness how Americans come together in times of great need,” Gannon said. She was a member of the military fellows group that Tufts leadership contacted to support the university’s crisis response in mid-March 2020. “It was the university’s immediate shift to how they could be of service to others that resonated with me as a veteran.”

The initiative to support the community “was not limited to the university leadership. The students of Tufts swiftly mobilized to support those in need, from supporting the university’s operations center, to delivering meals to those in quarantine, to developing and designing face shields and mask repair parts in the face of a global shortage,” she said. “The Tufts’ community demonstrated a tremendous show of force, fully committed to serving others.”

Service is a core value. Gannon cited civil rights activist Dorothy Height, who said, “Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It’s important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It’s the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.”

For Gannon, military service is “a sacred calling. As service members, we willingly sign up for a job that is all but guaranteed to put us into harm’s way, as well as endure long separations from our families, friends, and the communities we love,” she said. “We become members of units and organizations that quickly transcend the traditional work environment and become extensions of our identities. We carry with us forever the loss of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the field of battle.”

Americans of all stripes serve. “In communities across the country, Americans continue to step forward to serve,” said Gannon. “Even as the pandemic continues to threaten our communities, the contributions of our essential workers must be acknowledged,” she noted, including grocery store workers, health care workers, delivery drivers, and so many more.

“This legacy of service in America permeates every major period in our history and each day of our lives,” Gannon said. “These daily demonstrations of service come in many forms, whether it be the military, firefighters, law enforcement, nurses, doctors, educators, clergy, or volunteers at the soup kitchen, as my grandfather did and my mother and her sisters still do today.”

We each have a role to play. “We sit here today amongst history, a history that is young, imperfect, and continues to be written,” Gannon said. “And each and every one of us is an author. We are surrounded by ordinary Americans who have oftentimes risked their lives so that others may thrive.”

Note: All written and spoken opinions are Col. Gannon's and do not reflect the position of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.

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