Worcester State University’s recent Veterans Appreciation Event honored active duty and retired service members while discussing the transition from military to higher education and civilian life, as well as other issues impacting veterans. Special guests included Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco Ureña as well as representatives from the Worcester chapter of Veterans, Inc.
“With over 140 veterans and 22 ROTC members, we provide the transition to civilian life for many soldiers, and we are very proud to play that role in our community,” said WSU’s Assistant Vice President for Human Resources, Payroll, and Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Stacey Luster, who served as master of ceremonies.
President Barry Maloney provided opening remarks and noted the University’s longstanding connection with veterans. He also mentioned the recent passing of Lt. Col. James F. Sheehan ’55, who donated the largest single monetary gift in Worcester State’s history.
“Lieutenant Colonel Sheehan traveled around the world, but never forgot his roots here,” said President Maloney. “Likewise, we can never forget that the freedoms that we get to experience are done so on the backs of our service-men and -women.”
As a tribute, Taya Gibeau, a WSU alumna, the diversity clerk for the Human Resources Office, and self-described “army brat,” offered a reading of her poem “My Veterans, My Heroes.”
“I am quite familiar with the sacrifices of those who were overseas, in the wars, and in my family,” she said, “and they suffered from PTSD, which greatly affected my life and those around me. I know the depths of what Veterans Day means to them, and so I was moved to write this poem.”
The keynote speaker, Secretary Ureña, praised Worcester State for acting as a bridge to the civilian and veteran divide, a notion that inspired the former Marine to become involved in public service. When complimented by Luster on his office’s prompt response and delivery of requests, Ureña explained that he didn’t really have any other option.
“That’s why people call, to get things done,” he said.
The Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services, according to Ureña, is one of the strongest advocates and benefactors of veterans in the country. The state provides public assistance for tuition waivers at state colleges and universities, has a Veterans Services Officer in every city and town to act as a resource for veterans, and sponsors programs such as the Women Veteran’s Network and the SAVE team.
“It is our responsibility as public officials to have a relationship and actually have a connection to these communities,” said Ureña.
Ureña also pointed out that some of the most effective advocates for veterans are the veterans themselves, which was demonstrated in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in the 1990s. He also gave a special thanks to the Vietnam and Korean veterans in the audience.
“I always want to highlight any opportunity to recognize the service of our Korean and Vietnam War veterans specifically, because they did not receive the welcome home that our generation of veterans was given,” he said. “It was these veterans that, after the Gulf War, rallied to welcome back the new veterans and ensure that they were given the return home that they deserved.”
The event also included a panel of veterans, who are currently attending or had graduated from Worcester State, to provide insight into the transition from the military to the classroom. The panel was moderated by Alan Jackson, retired U.S. Army master sergeant and WSU’s director of military affairs/veterans services. The panel members explained that while the transition to civilian life could be difficult in a multitude of ways, having a veterans services office on campus was beneficial in providing both guidance and emotional support.
All attendees were given a copy of “For the Unity of the Republic,” a publication created by students of Adjunct Professor of History Linda Hixon last spring that provides biographical information on the men who were memorialized by the Worcester Soldiers’ Monument located on Worcester Common.
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