By Julia Borchers ’20, speech delivered at Upper School Morning Meeting on Veteran’s Day 2019
I spend a lot of my free time working with veterans*, to the point that most of our conversations don’t just follow meeting agendas but they surround our lives and beliefs. At the start of every meeting, Dave Ham, a Vietnam vet and essentially my surrogate grandfather, asks me what I did at school that day. On Friday, I told him about our forum on impeachment†, so he and I got to talking about politics as we often do. Dave and I are different in every conceivable way, I’m 17 and he’s 70, so we disagree on a lot. However, as we playfully debating with each other he stopped, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “so many thousands of people risked their lives for our opportunity to have this conversation right now.” Dissenting is an inherently American value, but one that I always took for granted until I started my work with veterans.
As I considered being as involved as I am with local veteran’s associations, I felt conflicted. There’s a common misconception that members of the military lean one way politically, and therefore veteran’s issues are politicized and the other side of the aisle is apathetic to their cause. I had internalized the idea that my work would somehow jeopardize my political values, as if opposing current military operations somehow invalidated the veterans who fought for our freedoms generations ago. Honoring the heroes who lost their lives fighting for our country and critiquing the government are not mutually exclusive, in fact, I think that they should always go hand in hand.
If Athenian has taught me anything, it is to always question what I am told. We live in an increasingly divisive time, but it will always be up to us to decide what we believe in, and how. The past four years I’ve spent alongside veterans has made me a truer member of our democracy, regardless of how others may interpret it. The unparalleled lessons about honor, service, and sacrifice that these veterans taught me have completely shaped who I am, and how I look at the world. They dedicated their lives to something bigger than themselves, and I am grateful for them every single day. Happy veteran’s day!
*Julia is a lead organizer for Wreaths Across Pleasanton, the local chapter of a national effort to recognize veterans.
†Athenian’s Upper School had a Forum meeting last week. Forums are all-school meetings that give students the opportunity to discuss current events. Last week, the school voted to talk about the impeachment proceedings. Faculty shared faculty information about what an impeachment entails and students shared their opinions.