Stony Brook University held their annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 10 in the Student Activity Center (SAC) auditorium to express gratitude for both past and active military members, as well as honor the ones who have lost their lives.
Approximately 200 faculty, students, family members and veterans nearly filled the SAC auditorium for the ceremony. The lively crowd clapped along to Stony Brook’s marching band as they performed at the start of the event. Military members and veterans stood when their branch of the military was announced.
The event sought out to express gratitude for our veterans, and according to the veterans in attendance, it did just that.
“It’s really cool to get together every year and honor our veterans and also remember those who sacrificed their lives on the line to maintain our freedom,” Allan Prinstil, a U.S. marine who has attended the ceremony every year for three years, said. “It’s a great way to come here and connect with some people that I’ve met through the ceremony and happen to be marines too. [I get to] meet with other people who served before me and to share their perspective and experience in the military.”
Army veteran and Stony Brook student Laura Kuramoto opened the ceremony. Kuramoto, a senior majoring in health sciences, served for a combined eight years in Japan, Fort Blint, Texas and Guam before pursuing her undergraduate education at Stony Brook.
Kuramoto’s speech called to remember those who lost their lives in service, along with being thankful for veterans and those currently serving the country. She specifically addressed those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and encouraged the audience to honor those heros for defending our freedom. She also praised student veterans and all of the veterans in attendance.
After the Presentation of Colors and the Pledge of Allegiance, retired staff sergeant and army veteran Jennifer Lucas sang the national anthem. Father Sean Magaldi then said a few words in an invocation that highlighted the veterans and their service.
Rick Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs, took the stage to commend those who put their own lives at risk so that “America can sleep peacefully at night.” Gatteau discussed Stony Brook’s strong support for our veteran community through Veterans Affairs, which assists over 250 student-veterans to achieve academic success.
New York State Assemblyman Steven Englebright and Brookhaven supervisor Ed Romaine came to the stage to reiterate the importance of gathering for Veterans Day. Englebright viewed the ceremony as “a chance to celebrate the current veterans and say thank you.”
Jose Arango-Murillo, the student speaker of the event, is a Stony Brook graduate student in the mechanical engineering department and army veteran. Murillo detailed his life and everything that led him to the American military and ultimately, Stony Brook University.
Born in Colombia, Arango-Murillo aspired to join the military from a young age. He gave up on this dream when he was denied from entering the Colombian military and pursued a higher education instead. The veteran came to America 11 years ago to finish his education.
This move to America revived his original goals of joining the military, and in 2012 Arango-Murillo joined the U.S. army. The language barrier between him and the other soldiers was a challenge Arango-Murillo faced, but after a short while he found a sense of belonging in the army.
“Everyone had a different story,” Arango-Murillo said about the people who served alongside him. He described the other soldiers as “family” because regardless of their backgrounds, everyone had the same values of selflessness and servitude.
Arango-Murillo’s military career ended in 2017 when he left the army for health reasons. He decided to attend Stony Brook University to get his master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“I knew this school was hard, but I wanted to better myself,” he said as he outlined the struggles he faced integrating into civilian life — particularly college — with a language barrier.
Arango-Murillo attributes his positive experience as a student veteran to the University’s Veteran Students Organization (VESO), which offers support and a variety of services to assist veterans in their academic success.
Anthony Billi, a veteran graduate student in the English department, described the VESO as “a huge benefit.”
“The resources are fantastic,” he said. “I went to school, initially, when I was much younger and I used my dad’s GI bill … The help that I got was not nearly what I got today, almost 20 years later.”
Ismael Rodriguez, director of military and veterans affairs and the ceremony’s keynote speaker, also feels strongly about veteran services’ positive impact on student veterans at Stony Brook University. Rodriguez served in the navy and the army, and has been with Stony Brook for over 25 years.
After serving in the navy, Rodriguez came to Stony Brook University to further his education. However, with no proper office for veterans and no support from the University, Rodriguez found the transition from the military to academia incredibly challenging. He began advocating for resources and an office dedicated to student veterans and is “thrilled with the growing veteran population on campus” today.
Rodriguez will be retiring as director this year, but his legacy of kindness and support for the veteran community will linger on. His impact will be represented through the new veterans lounge. The lounge will be finished by February or March of 2022 and is a project that has been 20 years in the making.
“The old lounge was really not that great,” Billi said, and described it as “a janitor’s closet with a couch in it.” He is enthusiastic about what the new lounge will have to offer.
Gatteau said he was thrilled that the school was able to bring everyone back in person this year. He also said that the veterans deserve this recognition and he is proud that the ceremony can provide that for them.
“[Veterans] are such an important population and given the sacrifices they’ve made for our country, I’m just so glad that we’re able to provide the academic and personal financial support for them to be successful here,” Gatteau said. “So to me that’s a huge part of why today’s celebration is so important, to really honor all our veterans.”
Billi added that the ceremony was “very well done” and that he feels seen and appreciated by the Stony Brook community.
“We’re more than just soldiers,” Billi said. “It’s really great when they incorporate it into the school and say ‘hey, you guys are our students here too and we just want to say thank you.’”