Northeastern honors its student-veterans, longstanding commitment to servicemembers, in Veterans Day ceremony

Two veterans view the memorial on Neal F. Finnegan plaza, at the heart of Northeastern’s Boston campus before the university’s annual Veterans Day ceremony. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Muhammad Ghafoor, a United States Marine sergeant and electrical engineering student at Northeastern, called for his fellow student-veterans to bring their commitment to service with them into the classroom in remarks he made during the university’s annual Veterans Day ceremony on Monday.

Veterans are “natural-born leaders” who “work efficiently in teams” and who “strive for nothing short of excellence,” said Ghafoor, who is the president of Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Keith Wilson is the regional director for the U.S. Army Soldier for Life program. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“As student-veterans, we must take these traits and continue to live by them, share them with our peers, [and] tweak them as we learn from each other,” he said to the crowd gathered near the Veterans Memorial on Northeastern’s Boston campus. “Take them into the classroom with you, and learn from other students.”

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun expanded upon Ghafoor’s definition of leadership. 

“Leadership comes in many different flavors,” he said. “When you serve, when you study, when you engage with a community, you discover the type of leadership you have. This is the beauty of serving.” 

Aoun also introduced another student-veteran, U.S. Army Captain Theresa Todd. 

Explaining how she shifted from military life to civilian life to student life, Todd told the crowd gathered at Northeastern’s Veterans Memorial plaza on Monday that she, like so many veterans, “transitioned” to civilian life, “but then you don’t really, ever. You’re still, deep down, serving.”

And, she added, “The best part about Northeastern is that the people—the administrators and students and faculty—may not have actually been in the service too, but they’re also serving; they’re serving us. I had the most robust support system.”

Todd is a student in Northeastern’s Align program, a program that provides students who did not study computer science in college with the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in computer science. She studied philosophy and literature at the United States Military Academy at West Point, subjects that turned out to be “just as useful as you’d imagine in civilian life,” Todd joked. 

Aoun said her trajectory made sense, though. 

Artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and autonomy “are changing our lives,” he said. “More than ever, we need people to make us think, to make us ethical, and to serve.”

Ghafoor, Aoun, Todd, and others who spoke on Monday made note of Northeastern’s longstanding commitment to its student-veterans and those who  served military efforts in other ways. The partnership between Northeastern and the military began during World War I, when the university first formed the Student Army Training Corps.

Neal F. Finnegan, chair emeritus of the Northeastern University Board of Trustees, described the efforts of Joseph H. Hefflon, whose name was added to the university’s veterans memorial.

Hefflon was 1915 graduate of the Northeastern School of Law, then known as the Evening School of Law of the Boston YMCA. He volunteered with the YMCA to support the troops during World War I, and was aboard the S.S. Orissa when it was torpedoed off the coast of Wales. Hefflon survived and made it to France, where he supported the U.S. Army for a time before he died in 1919, at the Red Cross hospital in France.

Andy McCarty, who directs the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers, announced that the center had also created the Joseph H. Hefflon Yellow Ribbon Award, to honor those who were not part of the military but served its members in other ways.

The inaugural recipient was Greg Tutunjian, a 1974 graduate of Northeastern who has volunteered over the years to provide technology training—training that would normally cost thousands of dollars—to veterans at the university for free.

Michael Pasqua, the former president of the Student Veterans Organization, was also honored on Monday with its Student Veteran of the Year award.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Keith Wilson, who is the regional director for the Army ambassador organization Soldiers for Life, described Northeastern as “the tip of the spear” among higher education institutions that support their veterans. 

The veterans memorial sits on Neal F. Finnegan plaza, right in the heart of the Boston campus.

The university is also home to the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, a nationally recognized hub of security-related research between faculty and federal agencies, situated in Burlington, Massachusetts. The research has a particular focus on foiling terrorist threats, developing sensing technology, and preventing cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, websites, and battlefield units. 

The Dolce Center first opened in 2015 as the Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers, and was renamed in 2017 after the university received a $1 million gift to fund its services. The center serves to support student veterans as they make the transition from their Northeastern education to graduate programs or employment.

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