Syracuse’s Commitment

Dear Orange Friends:

Most of us think of a joyous celebration when we hear fireworks on July 4th. But many of our nation’s veterans, who fought for independence, hear those same sounds and think of explosions and firefights that wounded or even killed their friends. That’s what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is all about…even years and decades after the actual event. And it is why our veterans deserve our attention. What they experienced is unique and how we meet their needs today and into the future must be equally unique.

That is the promise Syracuse University makes to veterans on this Fourth of July and every day. Allow me to share a story with you that reinforces Syracuse’s commitment to veterans.

Dr. Linda Schwartz, assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, spoke this week as part of Falk College’s discussion series about PTSD. Fifty years ago, as a nurse, Dr. Schwartz treated young Americans who suffered terrible wounds during the Vietnam War. Many years later, as commissioner of veteran affairs in Connecticut, she received a note from a Marine who was wounded in Iraq. His name was Cpl. Jordan Pierson. He had been wounded and was recuperating overseas.

In his note, he asked Dr. Schwartz if there would be services available for him when he returned. She responded in what she described as a typical way: She told him they were detailed on the agency web site. Cpl. Pierson replied: He wanted more. He wanted to know specifically if Dr. Schwartz and her agency would be there for him when he came home. In a way, she and her staff were his symbols of this nation, as a whole. Could they help him to find a job, to build a life?

Dr. Schwartz was moved. She sent Cpl. Pierson her personal phone number. She told him, once he returned, to contact her directly. The call never happened. Cpl. Pierson recovered from a wound that earned him a Purple Heart. He went back to combat, side-by-side with his fellow Marines. He was killed in action in 2006, in Iraq.

Dr. Schwartz says in every action she takes involving veterans, she remembers Jordan Pierson.

Her story should—in fact, it must—inspire all of us on this Independence Day. I am deeply appreciative of the connections our staff and faculty are making with veterans. At Syracuse, we are committed to embracing the men and women who served us as they return home. Delivering on our promise to them is our mandate. It is the right thing to do. It is a living part of our heritage.

As many know, after World War II, Chancellor William Pearson Tolley had the wisdom to welcome our veterans to campus. They earned an education through their sacrifice, then transformed Syracuse into an even greater place.

As Dr. Michael Haynie, our vice chancellor for veteran and military affairs, often points out: Their character, leadership skills and hunger for knowledge all contributed to a wiser and stronger university.

On this Fourth of July, amidst so much trouble and tragedy in this world, we have much to be thankful for at Syracuse. Certainly, the holiday provides another reason to appreciate and celebrate the intellectual and artistic freedoms this nation guarantees. Those freedoms are the very soul of this campus.

It is also a moment for remembering those willing to put everything at risk to protect those freedoms….

Men and women like 21-year-old Cpl. Jordan Pierson.

Years ago, he asked Dr. Schwartz if opportunities would be there for him, once he made it home.

At Syracuse, with gratitude, our answer is: Always.


Kent Syverud

Chancellor Kent Syverud