By Nathan Finney
Veteran’s Day was always more than just a long weekend in my family. Coming from a family that has had someone serve in the military every generation going back to America’s War for Independence, at least a small portion of this holiday was annually dedicated to attending Veteran’s Day parades and calling family members and thanking them for their service. It was not until serving overseas during a time of war that I truly understood what this day, and the service it symbolizes, truly meant. Every time I thanked a veteran from that day on, it was with more than a little emotion.
Having spent the last few months sharing stories with the extremely accomplished students and faculty here at Harvard, I realized that the service I had previously equated with the military was just as applicable to non-military servants from around the world. There are students among us today who have put their lives in danger resettling displaced peoples around the world, telling the stories of young leaders standing up to oppressors and paying the price, and taking on repressive political regimes by running for office. This service is as courageous as those typically celebrated during Veteran’s Day.
And even with all their accomplishments prior to arriving at Harvard, what impresses me most about the students at the Kennedy School is that, to an individual, we are interested in the future, not the past. We are focused on what we could be doing, what we should be doing and what we will be doing. For each of us this experience at the Kennedy School is not for its own sake; it is a means for us to each make a greater, brighter and better impact upon the world.
As one of my idols President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “The history of freedom is never really written by chance but by choice.” We all chose to come here and I see daily, how we all choose to prepare for a future of consequence and making a difference for the better. As the future leaders of our societies – leaders of industry, leaders of communities, and leaders of nations – we truly must “ask what we can do” today to prepare for tomorrow.
So, while we should certainly recognize and thank the veterans among us, service is much more and beyond a uniform. Let us each use our time here to reflect on how we have served, how we should serve, and then reaffirm our service to our causes, our nations and the world. In the end, no matter what classes we successfully bid, how well we polish our negotiation skills, or what great events we attend, the actions we perform and people we serve in the years ahead, will be a testament to this institution and allow us to enter the ranks of those selfless servants that we celebrate on Veteran’s Day.