One of the most moving events I have ever witnessed is the Commissioning Ceremony of ROTC cadets at the Fort Valley State University Commencement exercises. I always get choked up. And I know I am not the only one, for as I look around the hall. I can see women ducking heads to dab at wet eyes, or men pulling handkerchiefs from pockets to wipe their faces.
I am not sure why everyone else is getting so emotional, but I know why I am. I am witnessing one of the most selfless acts of courage that man or woman has ever made. I am watching young people who have the rest of their adult lives ahead of them make a decision to postpone a “normal” life for military service. I am watching young men and women who have exhibited leadership on our campus accept the challenge to be leaders in a wartime military. Those young people have tremendous courage to accept the challenges that lie ahead, especially when there are some people who would deny them that right.
Each of those young men and women who is commissioned during college graduation is representative of the thousands of men and women who previously accepted the call to duty. So many individuals have died to give freedom to those of us who remain. I recently received an email that had a picture of Arlington National Cemetery on it. The caption read “Freedom Isn’t Free.” That message really struck home as I thought of the number of men and women who died in war or who came home wounded. And although the men and women in my family who served did come home, I think how different my world would have been if they had not survived and even how different it would have been if they had not served.
I tear up at these commissioning ceremonies because I respect the sacrifices and challenges of those young people. I tear up because they remind me that I am able to live the way I do in a nation that allows me so many opportunities. They remind me that I have so much to be thankful for, and that my first words of thanks should be to them.
As you celebrate the 4th of July this year, remember our Patriots. When you have that meal, and say the blessing (Patriots died that you might do so), remember those young men and women so recently commissioned. But also remember those who fought to create this country and those who are in war torn countries now. Show your colors this weekend – and let them be Red, White, and Blue.
--Dr. Eleanor K. Sikes is the Interim Chairperson for Middle Grades Education Programs at Fort Valley State University