Drexel’s 10th annual Memorial Day Primer would have been held last week. This year, the special tradition was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Drexel has found ways to celebrate remotely.
Assistant Vice President of Student Life, Dr. Rebecca Weidensaul, said that finding a way to honor was so important to many members of the Drexel community, including the student-veteran population.
“I talked with the student-veteran leaders at Drexel and the Veterans Task Force members about what we could do remotely to continue the tradition of the Memorial Day Primer,” Weidensaul said. “We wanted to find a way to ‘be connected’ in our preparation for the three-day weekend.”
Student-veteran leaders even teamed up to create a short video in which the group read the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by John McCrae during World War I. Reciting this poem has become a special tradition at the annual Memorial Day Primer event.
“This poem, along with the sharing of poppies, has become a hallmark of every Memorial Day Primer as it grounds us in military history and provides patriotic tradition,” Weidensaul reminded.
The poppy, a red flower that has become a national symbol of remembrance, was first inspired by McCrae’s poem. His writing describes the fields in Flanders, or present-day Belgium, which were ravaged from battle but still grew poppies.
Distributing hand-knitted bright red poppies has become a tradition at every Memorial Day Primer, Weidensaul said, but it is happening differently this year.
“Instead of handing out [hand-made] poppies, we offered DIY art projects,” she said. “[These] DIY poppy projects were a way to engage households in Memorial Day tradition and patriotism.”
In an email to the Drexel veteran community, Weidensaul said she hopes creative expressions, like displaying the DIY poppies and other window art – brought about during the coronavirus pandemic – will become a part of the new normal. She said finding unique ways to celebrate traditions has “pulled us through” the pandemic.
Weidensaul also offered online recordings of previous Memorial Day Primer events for those who wish to watch a full celebration.
“Fortunately, we have recorded most of our veteran and Memorial Day events in the past years, and were happy to share them if anyone wanted to experience a full tribute,” Weidensaul said.
Members of the Drexel community were also invited to participate in this year’s National Moment of Remembrance, held on May 25 at 3 p.m., in honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
“This [National Moment of Remembrance] experience is very personal for most,” Weidensaul said. “But, I suspect we all share a common sense of comfort knowing that there is unified prayer or contemplation to honor the great personal sacrifices of our fellow Americans and their loved ones.”
Weidensaul also shared that May is National Military Appreciation Month, celebrated annually “to ensure the nation [is] given the chance to publicly show their appreciation for troops past and present,” according to Military.com.
The U.S. military’s individual and collective efforts have been instrumental in shaping America’s history, Weidensaul said, and National Military Appreciation Month is a reminder to honor and appreciate service members and our history.
“[Our] American patriots have built a culture of service that has sustained our nation and communities on the best of days, the worst of days and every day in between,” she wrote in an email to Drexel’s veteran community. “Unfortunately, many of our student-veterans, colleagues and alumni have lost friends and loved ones because of their exceptional and patriotic call to service. Let us be there for them.”
Although in a physically-distant manner this year, Drexel continues to bring together the veteran community and celebrate military service, which Weidensaul says is a way of life. Those who have chosen to serve our nation through service have made a selfless decision so we can live freely, she said.
Now is our chance to do our duty of recognizing them, especially those who are so special to the Drexel community.
“[Drexel is] a stronger university because of our military-connected students, alumni, professional staff, and those who support them, like the Veterans Task Force and the Drexel Veterans Alumni Network,” Weidensaul said.