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Harvard's Undergraduate Veterans Celebrate Service
By Joseph Alexander
It was a cold Friday evening when I journeyed to Cambridge Queen's Head Pub, a social space tucked underneath Annenberg Hall, but I was quickly warmed by the community I found inside—the Harvard Undergraduate Veterans Organization (HUVO) was gathered to commemorate Veterans Day. Undergraduate veterans and their friends and families enjoyed food, drink, and fellowship, and I got the chance to ask several attendees about their experiences at Harvard.
HUVO President Ben Allen told the Salient that providing social events for veterans was important to him because he remembers a time when they had fewer opportunities to find community. “I showed up during the Covid year. HUVO had only been established in 2018 with 6 veterans, and the community was much smaller. Right now, we have 76 veterans across campus.”
Ultimately, he says, HUVO hopes to make every veteran feel at home at Harvard. “HUVO’s goal is to foster the growth and development of veterans at Harvard, and my personal goal is that no vet feels left out. Harvard and HUVO are doing a great job forming that camaraderie.”
Mr. Allen also mentioned that veterans’ experience in the service can enrich academic discussions: “In an Expos class about civil rights, now you are introducing somebody who swore an oath to the Constitution and to every American.” Several other undergraduate veterans shared similar sentiments, explaining how their military service helped them provide useful perspectives in classes on topics like human rights and privacy and technology.
Aaron Rosales, an undergraduate who served eight years in the Marine Corps, told me about the Veterans Day Challenge HUVO hosted earlier that morning. Students, faculty, and several residential deans joined to climb all 37 sections of the historic Harvard Stadium. The event raised money for Home Base, which Mr. Rosales described as “a great organization that provides mental health services at no cost to veterans and their families.”
Ryan, a veteran who plans to apply to Harvard College, noted that “running the stadium was somewhat reminiscent of being in the Marine Corps, in that it’s not about being the fastest but rather coming together, facing challenges, and finishing as an entire team.” Ryan made the positive effects of HUVO’s veteran outreach efforts clear: “It’s less challenging to apply as a veteran when you can talk to people who went through the same process.”
I was ready to keep mingling, but it was time to cut the cake.
In addition to Veterans Day, the gathering celebrated the birthday of the Marine Corps. A video published by the Corps shows scenes of firearm training, mortars firing, and camouflaged movements interspersed with veteran Marines recalling their time in the service. When it concluded, a Marine in dress blues took a saber and cut a birthday cake.
That Marine was Ed Somuk, a retired infantryman who spent 28 years in the Corps. After cutting the cake, he took a moment to explain the significance of the tradition. “As the oldest Marine present, I am traditionally served the first piece of cake. I take a bite and then give the piece of cake to the youngest Marine present, which symbolizes the passing down of wisdom through the generations.” The crowd listened attentively and then cheered.
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After the ceremony, I asked him about his time at Harvard. “My experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and my fellow students and teachers have been overwhelmingly welcoming.” Mr. Somuk also said that “HUVO is a fantastic organization that helps veterans navigate through the college process with a common camaraderie. I’m incredibly proud of Harvard for recognizing the value that veterans bring to the classroom, the campus, and the community at large.”
That value was certainly clear at Friday’s celebration. Here’s a salute to HUVO for fighting for the men and women that fought for the rest of us.