In what organizers, attendees, and speakers said was a testament to the strengthened relationship between Harvard and the military, Harvard student veterans gathered yesterday evening at an event honoring their service.
Retired General Stanley A. McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, delivered the keynote address, speaking candidly about his experiences as a military leader and about current foreign policy issues.
Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Gergen said that the event—hosted by the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School—was likely the largest gathering of Harvard student veterans since World War II. Though said in front of a large crowd that packed a ballroom at the Sheraton Commander Hotel, most of McChrystal’s remarks were off the record.
“When Harvard embraces veterans and families like [it] did tonight, it sets a tone and a trend,” McChrystal told The Crimson after the event, echoing one of the themes of the evening. “That ability to articulate specially that this institution, which is one of the most important in the nation, goes to this level of effort impacts everyone. Harvard [is a] bellwether for education.”
McChrystal, who resigned after openly criticizing President Obama in a magazine article last summer, also said more broadly that he hopes more students will consider service careers.
“I would personally like to see everyone at institutions like this [to] first think: where am I going to serve?” he said. “I would like them to think, I’ve got to do something that makes me feel like I’ve given something to the nation.”
Seth W. Moulton ’01—who served in Iraq with the Marine Corps and is now a resident tutor in Quincy House and a student at HKS and Harvard Business School—said he has been impressed by the number of students who have taken up service careers in recent years.
“One of the things this dinner shows is that it’s a hard choice, but that it’s a good choice,” he said. “Harvard isn’t holding a dinner to celebrate all the veterans of Wall Street.”
Taylor B. Evans ’14—a five year Marine Corps veteran—said the dinner was the latest in a string of happenings that have improved the public impression of relations between Harvard and the military.
“The last few months have been very positive for [the military’s] relationship with higher education,” he said.
In remarks at last night’s event, HKS Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 attributed much of this success to the leadership of University President Drew G. Faust.
“From the day she became president ... she was the most committed person I knew to making ROTC happen at Harvard,” Ellwood said in reference to bringing the Reserve Officer Training Corps back to Harvard. The University recognized ROTC this March for the first time since the Vietnam War.
The event, which was attended by approximately 200 student veterans primarily enrolled in graduate schools across the University, is the third annual dinner honoring student veterans.
Gergen followed McChrystal with forward-looking remarks directed at the veterans.
“We honor you for your service, for what you have done, but we do it in the spirit of what you can be,” he said. “[There] is a sense that you can be the next Greatest Generation. You have in your capacity the power to do things that this country so desperately needs.”
McChrystal said that he could not agree more.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.