UNF celebrates Veterans Day

Nathan Turoff, Features Editor

Tropical Storm Nicole has come and gone, and the University of North Florida is now pivoting to celebrate Veterans Day on Friday. Though students now have a four-day weekend, Veterans Day is more than just another day off; it’s a day to give veterans the honor they deserve. 

More than 1,600 flags were organized on the UNF Green this week to celebrate the university’s military-affiliated student population. Usually a weeklong display, the flags had to be removed early in preparation for Tropical Storm Nicole. 

American flags on the Green honoring veterans for Veterans Day. (Justin Nedrow)

On Tuesday, UNF’s Military and Veteran’s Resource Center (MVRC) hosted its annual breakfast to honor veterans. 

“The Military and Veterans Resource Center held its signature Veteran Tribute on Tuesday, Nov. 8, at Veterans Plaza, to honor all veterans, especially those connected with UNF. President Limayem made welcoming remarks and emphasized how important UNF’s student veterans are and how much they bring to the university. Our keynote speaker was Dr. Valerie Morrison, a retired Navy captain and nurse, and head of Student Health Services at UNF. At the MVRC we believe Veterans Day is a time to honor all veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve and to recognize the sacrifices they have made. At the same time we recognize the family members of those veterans, who also make sacrifices so their loved ones can serve,” retired navy captain and MVRC Director Bob Buehn wrote to Spinnaker. 

Spinnaker sat down with Dr. Morrison for an interview where she further elaborated on her speech and the importance of Veterans Day.

A retired navy captain from a military family with over 30 years in the service from 1990 to 2020, Morrison first joined after graduating college to help people as a nurse and loved it. She spoke very fondly of her time and career in the navy, the most “generalist” branch of the armed forces. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better career,” she said.

She liked everything she did and got to travel the world, which was a large honor for her. Despite some challenges, she truly saw it as fantastic.

“People say ‘you stay in till it isn’t fun anymore’” she recalled.

For her, she never stopped having fun, and she stayed in for 30 years until they told her she “had to go.” 

Morrison, who spoke at the MVRC breakfast, explained the ideas behind her speech. 

She started the speech by discussing a story of the Timucua, a Native American people who first lived on the land that UNF currently sits on, before being “completely eradicated.”

Morrison explained that while many may think such a story is disheartening, she chose to open her speech with it as an example.

“That uniform represents not yourself, but the voice of others,” Morrison said, before elaborating on how when serving in the armed forces, soldiers give a voice to everyone in America throughout the past, like the Timucua who had no voice, and present. 

Over 1,500 flags were placed on the Green on Monday in a display honoring veterans and military-affiliated Ospreys at UNF. (Justin Nedrow)

She gave examples throughout history where many will serve despite not being given freedom, such as segregation. Even during her time, she explained how careers were often denied based on race and gender. 

Creating a “freedom that is equally applied to all Americans and inclusive to all Americans” is why anyone serves, Morrison said.

Morrison explained that Veterans Day is a way of recognizing the importance of the 1% of Americans who are veterans or currently serving. She gave examples of how many recent veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan had, from a medical standpoint, experienced some of the harshest trauma since Vietnam.

“You want to say ‘thank you for your service,’ but it feels like ‘thank you’ just isn’t enough,” Morrison said of the soldiers’ sacrifices.

She also highlighted the importance of recognizing the difference between Veterans Day, which celebrates veterans and active service members, and Memorial Day, which celebrates those killed in the line of duty. 

Just because there is a “holiday for everything” nowadays, never diminish Veterans Day, Morrison said. 

Of course, there are also many student veterans attending UNF. Sergeant Jasmine Williams served in the Army from 2016 to 2021 and, like Morrison, came from a military family. She echoed Morrison’s statement about the sacrifices veterans give and why they give them.

“You gave a lifetime so other lifetimes could exist,” Williams said. 

American flags on the Green honoring veterans for Veterans Day. (Justin Nedrow)

Williams saw both positives and negatives in her time in the service. She explained how it’s very difficult for some veterans to adjust to normal life after serving, which she said has partially contributed to the veteran mental health crisis and veteran homelessness.

As a student and a veteran, Williams is grateful for Veterans Day because of the recognition it brings, and she appreciates the support from UNF in the form of the MVRC but wishes it could be more.

According to Williams, at the end of the day, the armed forces are people putting aside trivial differences in the pursuit of something more.

Any and every time you see a veteran, especially today, thank them for their service and treat them with nothing but respect and honor.


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