Northeastern honors veterans, pledges continued commitment to those who serve

Jon Santiago speaking at a podium surrounded by flags.
Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services Jon Santiago speaks at the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Friday at Northeastern University’s Boston campus. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services Jon Santiago urged not just a celebration of veterans but also a renewed commitment to veterans and military families Friday at the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Northeastern’s Boston campus.

“As much as today’s about celebrating veterans and the military community, it’s also about understanding that there’s still so much more to do,” said Santiago, who is a major in the U.S. Army Reserves and an emergency room physician. 

He noted that homelessness, unemployment and mental health challenges affect many veterans. 

“I hope (today’s) a call for action: to renew our commitment to serving our community and our country, and I would ask that you join me in that — we can’t do it alone at the Executive Office of Veterans Services,” Santiago continued. “I’m depending on you, your organizations, your institutions, to support our veterans community and military families.”

The annual Veterans Day Ceremony was held in front of the Veterans Monument at Neal Finnegan Veterans Memorial Plaza on the Boston campus, with approximately 100 people in attendance, including members of the student veterans community, ROTC cadets, ROTC alumni, and other students, faculty, staff, graduates and senior leaders.

The event was hosted by Michael Lennon, class of ’24 and president of the Student Veterans Organization at Northeastern. 

“Attending Northeastern has given me opportunities I would never have experienced elsewhere,” said Lennon, who served six years in the U.S. Air Force and three years in the Massachusetts Air National Guard. 

He noted that one of those opportunities was a recent co-op in the organized crime and gang unit at the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston. 

“This co-op reinforced my aspirations to pursue a career in federal law enforcement, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity,” Lennon continued. “I cannot reiterate enough how much this university has changed my life, and I would encourage any potential student or student veteran to apply. This institution is truly world class, and I am proud to be a student and a veteran here at Northeastern.”

Other speakers represented Northeastern staff, faculty, alumni and more.

“I feel gratitude for a community here at Northeastern that provides an innate setting for us to all collide — both celebrating and commiserating in our shared and universal experiences as veterans,” said Emily DeVito, director of strategic partnerships for Northeastern’s Arlington, Virginia, campus and a U.S. Navy veteran. “We also have the opportunity to share our stories with our civilian peers on a college campus — to learn from one another and receive support and perspective.”

Lt. Col. Brian Slotnick, U.S. Army, professor of military science and head of the university’s Army ROTC program, was similarly grateful.

“I am grateful to be here and be a part of the ceremony to recognize those that have served their nation with honor and distinction both past and present,” Slotnick said. “We are grateful for their service and commitment, being part of a purpose bigger than themselves, defending the ideals of our Constitution.”

Slotnick also reflected on the meaning of “duty” — looking for examples not just in the past but also in the future.

“Like many of our current serving members of the military, I gain inspiration from those that have come before me, from your legacy and devotion to duty,” Slotnick said. “And now I have the opportunity to inspire and be inspired by our cadets, our next generation.”

Headshot of a service member at the Northeastern Veterans Day ceremony.
Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

The ceremony also provided an opportunity to honor specific veterans for their commitment.

Andy McCarty, U.S. Air Force veteran and founding director of the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Service Members (CAVS), awarded Brianna Renner with the Joseph H. Hefflon Yellow Ribbon Award in recognition of her work as CEO of the Veterans Yoga Project. Renner, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, volunteers at the annual Vets off Grid camping trip that CAVS organizes. 

“One of the first questions I get each year as we plan the event is ‘will there be yoga?’” McCarty joked. 

“Brianna leads from the heart and her work has helped the Veterans Yoga Project positively impact more than 26,000 veterans per year,” McCarty continued. “Brianna has been a superb partner and friend to our program.”

Neal F. Finnegan, chair emeritus of the Northeastern University Board of Trustees, honored the family of Rene Coutu, class of 1968 and a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, who was killed in Vietnam. 

Finnegan read a letter Coutu wrote just before he died in which he thanked his hometown newspaper, The Call, for keeping him abreast of local goings-on in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. 

“While reading The Call, I can almost picture myself back home reading the paper, having a good evening meal,” Coutu wrote. “It also takes my mind off the events of the day.”

Finnegan honored the family with a replica dog tag similar to ones for service members on the Veterans Memorial at the plaza. 

The event concluded with the laying of a ceremonial wreath at the monument, a performance of the Armed Forces Medley by The Downbeats, and Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun giving thanks to all the participants, veterans and members of the armed forces.

“We are safe here and we are secure, thanks to all that you have done and all that you are doing,” Aoun said. 

Aoun added that Northeastern’s commitment to veterans and the armed forces entails more than just recognizing their contributions. 

“At the same time, it is our obligation to make the armed forces safe and secure, not only our veterans; and our colleagues are doing that through all their work in this university,” Aoun continued. 

And just as Santiago asked, Aoun pledged to continue to honor and support veterans and members of the military.

“This commitment is a commitment of the whole community,” Aoun said. “We’re celebrating our veterans, we’re celebrating the veterans of this nation and also the armed forces, and we are making and renewing our commitment and our pledge to continue to contribute to make them safe and secure.”

Cyrus Moulton is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @MoultonCyrus.