North Carolina Central University observed Veterans Day on Monday, Nov. 12, in two ways.
In the morning, nearly 50 NCCU military veterans — students, faculty and staff — were honored with speeches and a flag ceremony in front of the statue of university founder James E. Shepard at the heart of the campus. The gathered crowd saluted the veterans with a hearty round of applause.
The afternoon brought a less formal but more substantive indication of gratitude: the grand opening of NCCU’s new Veterans Center, a meeting place and source of services for the university’s growing contingent of veterans.
Speaking at the flag ceremony, Lt. Col. James Hunt, battalion commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Raleigh, said, “What impresses me the most about our military men and women is that even after they wear the uniform, they come back and continue to make a commitment to their families and communities.” Not since the Vietnam War, Hunt noted, have there been as many veterans between the ages of 22 and 30. “And this number is only going to increase.”
It is partly in response to this growth that NCCU developed its Veterans Center, which occupies a suite in the Miller–Morgan Building. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund contributed $18,600 to support the establishment of the center, which includes a student lounge, a computer center and office space for NCCU veterans coordinator Tomeka Davis.
Davis, herself an Army veteran, said the new center will serve as a refuge and resource for student veterans. “There is a bond that is formed when you join the military, a sense of camaraderie. That is what the Veterans Center will provide, a space to connect to others who understand our story. That’s what veterans need to be successful and graduate on time.”
Chris Sheehan, who coordinates the establishment of campus veterans centers as a Boston-based representative of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, spoke briefly, praising Davis and NCCU for their work.
“As we have tried to come up with a model of the best campus centers,” he said, “we’ve found that the two most important things are having a good place to gather and having a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Tomeka and her crew have worked hard to create that.”
About 400 NCCU students have served or are currently active in the military. In September, NCCU was recognized for the third year in a row as a “military-friendly” institution by Victory Media, a company that serves military personnel transitioning into civilian life. The company’s list honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that are “doing the most to embrace America’s military service members, veterans, and spouses as students and ensure their success on campus.”