Adapt and overcome–a lesson from veterans on beating the pandemic

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Cal Samara, political science student and president of the university’s Student Veterans Organization, opened Northeastern’s Veterans Day video ceremony on Wednesday by acknowledging the hardships and turbulence the world has undergone during the past year. 

“I believe that veterans, more than most, were trained to handle this year,” said Samara, who served in the United States Air Force. 

Samara joined the military after becoming disillusioned with his unpromising job prospects. Knowing that the Air Force would allow him to simultaneously serve and earn college credits, he took advantage of the opportunity and worked toward his degree. 

“I love serving my country, so the choice was obvious: Learn about our political and governmental systems and work to fix them,” he said in the video message, adding that he chose to attend Northeastern because it met his particular needs as a serviceman and transfer student. 

In the spring, he was accepted into the PlusOne Program, an accelerated master’s degree track, where he will work toward a degree in public administration.  

Samara is also grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Student Veterans Organization, where he helps veteran students transition into academic life and acts as an ambassador for the university. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to do that at other universities, and for that, I’m grateful,” he said.

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, spoke about the need to return the favor and provide security for veterans and active duty members who serve to keep the country safe. 

“Here at Northeastern, we feel that we have a role to play,” he said. “We have a full campus in Burlington, Massachusetts, focusing on security research. The purpose of this research is to improve the capabilities of those who are keeping us secure all over the world.” 

Aoun also spoke about the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which began in 1951 and is one of the largest such programs in New England. 

“Since its inception, this program has educated leaders who have served us well,” he said. “We are thanking them today and celebrating their lives and their achievements.” 

Aoun thanked Andy McCarty, director of the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers, and Seth Moulton, U.S. Representative for Massachusetts and former Marine Corps officer, both of whom also spoke during the virtual ceremony.



Moulton began by drawing attention to the rising number of suicide rates among veterans—17 deaths per day. 

“These aren’t just statistics. These are real people who leave behind grieving families and communities. They’re the men and women who served with me in Iraq, who carried the mental scars of their service on behalf of our nation,” he said. “It’s time to break the stigma around seeking help for mental health.”

Moulton also acknowledged that this year in particular could be hard for veterans, who might have limited access to resources because of the pandemic. 

“We believe providing a space for vets to speak openly is more important than ever before. That’s why we made sure to continue our Vets Town Hall tradition, by moving it to a digital format, so we can honor veterans while staying safe from the pandemic,” he said, referring to the annual event he started in Marblehead, Massachusetts.   

Echoing Samara’s opening sentiments, McCarty said that with all the chaos of the past year, service members are trained to succeed in unprecedented and uncertain situations. 

All branches of the U.S. military share one common mantra: “Adapt and overcome,” McCarty said. “We’re taught that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. This is true throughout life, not just during military service.” 

The flexibility and the ability to pivot to new plans makes veterans especially valuable employees during these uncertain times, McCarty said. Despite the millions of lost lives and the economic and political turmoil of the past year, McCarty believes the U.S. and the world will overcome hardships with the help of veterans and service members alike. 

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