Student Veterans National Convention

Fischer Colloquium
Georgetown University
October 1, 2010

Thank you for that introduction Erik, and thank you for all you do on behalf of our student veterans. I’d also like to thank all of you for joining us here on the Hilltop as we celebrate your third national conference, Success After Service.

We’re honored to have you here. Whether you’ve come to us from across the country or are members of the Georgetown family, you represent the spirit to which we aspire: A dedication to service, a commitment to sacrifice, and a devotion to making this nation and this world a better place.

You’re following a proud tradition by meeting here at Georgetown, as the Hoya Battalion, our ROTC Cadet Corps is one of our nation’s oldest. Since the ROTC officially came to campus in 1918, it has commissioned more than 4,100 officers, including General George Casey, the current Army Chief of Staff. National Security Advisor General James “Jim” Jones is also a Hoya (FS 66’).

That tradition of service and honor has continued since. It is a tradition that is embodied in each of your lives. It is a tradition that we are proud to represent here. For each of the past two years, more than two hundred veterans or members of the active-duty military have become part of the Georgetown family. And – your ranks are expected to increase in the coming year as soldiers continue to return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In light of this welcome homecoming, Georgetown is so pleased to be a participant in the Yellow Ribbon program, an initiative that works to make private colleges and universities more accessible to veterans pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. The program, authorized by Congress under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistant Act of 2008 – also known as the New GI Bill, sponsored by Senator Jim Webb, a Vietnam vet and Silver Star recipient – supported 85 veterans in their educational pursuits at Georgetown last year.

This year, Georgetown has been grateful for the opportunity to increase our Yellow Ribbon benefits to five times what it was in the previous academic year, strengthening the opportunities we can provide for new veterans in our community. We also have initiated new grant programs across all of our schools, with a special emphasis on our School of Continuing Studies, to enable an increased number of veterans like you to continue their education as Hoyas.

While these gains are strong – all due to the implementation of the New GI Bill – it also has become clear that the bill can be improved. Adjustments are needed to reduce its inconsistencies, to ensure that its patchwork of benefits is standardized and streamlined.

It’s unclear if amendments to the New GI Bill will be enacted by this Congress. I know we all hope it will be approved before the end of the year. But if not, you can be sure that those of us here at Georgetown will be working with colleagues in higher education across the country to ensure that improvements are enacted, to see that every veteran has the opportunity to pursue their academic dreams and lifetime aspirations.

We’re also looking to better support our veterans on campus. I believe there are real possibilities for improving veteran recruitment, retention and matriculation. And I’m confident that we could see significant improvements in service for all of you, who sacrificed so much to serve all of us.

Last night, right downstairs, we had a private screening of the new film, one that will be released sometime in the next year. The film is called Project Rebirth. The filmmaker, an alum of ours, Jim Whitaker, is one of the great talents of Hollywood. Most recently, he served as President of Imagine Entertainment. Jim has been at work on this film for almost nine years. Shortly after the twin towers fell on 9/11, Jim was in New York and had a vision for a film. He placed cameras all around the site and for the past eight years these cameras have snapped pictures every ten minutes to capture the rebuilding of the site we call Ground Zero.

But even more meaningful—he identified a group of individuals, all of whom had been impacted by the event—a firefighter, at the site who lost his brother, a fellow fighter, when a tower collapsed; a young boy who list his mother, an investment banker; a woman who lost her fiancé…each year, Jim interviewed each person and captured a “time-lapse” of their lives as they worked to rebuild their lives after unimaginable loss. This film will be the official film of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero and as I said, it will be released some time in the coming year.

As I watched the film last evening, it struck me that we as a nation still have a great deal of work left to do. We are still coming to terms with the events of 9/11; still trying to reconcile the meaning of these events; still looking for healing, still trying to recover.

And I thought of the importance of the university—of our universities as providing a place for this work. And I thought about all of you…Coming to our campus tonight and for this weekend…And the extraordinary role you can play in our university communities in helping all of us engage in this work of coming to terms with what the events of this past decade – 9/11 the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, what these events mean for us as a nation, for us as a people, and in each of our lives. This is the work of universities and your presence in our communities strengthens our capacity to do this work.

Earlier this week in a speech at Duke University, Secretary Gates said that a disproportionate burden has been carried by some members of our society. That burden has been carried by all of you. If this is a “disconnect” in our nation, this is the place for us to address it. It is our university communities that provide the context for this urgent work of healing and integration, work that is necessary to strengthen our people, work that will enable this nation to move into this new century prepared for our responsibilities in this ever-changing world.

Thank you once again for joining us tonight. It’s an honor to host your conference on our Hilltop, and it is our pride and privilege to recognize you for your service.

Now, to continue with our program, I’d like to ask Joseph Ferrara, our Associate Dean of the Public Policy Institute to come to the podium. Before coming to Georgetown, Joe served in many positions in the U.S. Federal government, including the Department of Defense where he won the Secretary of Defense Medal for Civilian Service.

Thanks again for being with us Joe. Would you share a few words?