Every day for one and a half years, I passed a cemetery on my way to class.
That’s a hook right there, wouldn’t you say? A great way to describe the hoards of community college students shuffling along from class to class – ear buds in, zoned out, sometimes with a joint of a smoking leaf of some kind dangling from their pouted lips.
The thing is, I’m telling the full faith truth. There is a cemetery on the Rockland Community College campus, and each day, my fellow students and I went to and from the back-most parking lot to the academic buildings, we passed by nearly 100 WWII and Korean War veterans; individuals who gave years of their lives in service to our country.
Of course, as one day melds into the next, it’s hard to stop and think about the significance of a veterans’ cemetery on a college campus. As we – students of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and affiliations – endeavored to execute our unique versions of the American dreams, those who fought for our freedom were right there with us every day. Sometimes, I wondered how often students stepped down the smoothly paved concrete path to visit the modest gravestones in the Gary Onderdonk Veterans Memorial Cemetery. In my three semesters there, I went once.
I was the only one there on that bright, sun shiny spring afternoon. The headstones were as simple as can be: small, flat rectangular stones of whitish-grey hues, inscribed with names, dates of birth and of service, and the symbol of the religion of which the veteran belonged to. Small American flags were planted alongside each one, sometimes with a lone violet or daisy. As I passed each one, I wondered what each of their stories were , what their war experiences were like, what comforts and dreams they surrendered so that their the rest of us wouldn’t have to. I reflected on my own dreams: to graduate college, to do so without substantial debt, to be self-sufficient, have time for friends and family, get married, start a family, and provide the next generation with opportunity to do the same.
Every now and then, we are reminded of how many sacrifices our everyday lives stand on, and how everyday people, even today, give the precious commodities of time with family, mental and physical health, and of course, life itself, for our freedom. Aside from attending the auspicious commemoration ceremonies, barbecues, and sales, I hope we honor their memories every day, by honoring the blessing of liberty with responsibileness for what we do with the one-time-only gift we call life.
“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” – Viktor Frankl