Drexel University’s Office of Student Life held its 10th-annual Memorial Day Primer event May 26 to pay tribute to members of the Drexel community who have served the country and to remind students about the true meaning behind Memorial Day each year.
As a COVID-19 precaution, this year’s Memorial Day Primer was held virtually via a Zoom webinar with an open invite. Although led online, the annual program featured all of its hallmark activities.
The event began with a rendition of the National Anthem sung by Tiffany Dydak during the Presentation of the Colors. Following, Matthew Pron, a Drexel Veterans Alumni Network president, U.S. Marines veteran and Drexel Class of 2016 graduate, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Together we are gathered to honor and remember all who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Father Remigio Morales, Director of Spirituality at the Newman Center, said, beginning with an invocation.
Throughout the event, many members of the Drexel community had the opportunity to present and share words about the powerful impact of those currently in uniform and those who have served.
Anne Converse Willkomm, Assistant Dean of the Graduate College and Assistant Clinical Professor and Department Head in the Goodwin College of Professional Studies, spoke about her father’s service during World War II. Although she does not remember hearing many war stories as a child, Willkomm says lessons from war were woven into many aspects of her childhood.
“Quippets about friendship, fear and fortitude,” Willkomm said. “Surely lessons [from war] meant for the younger generations.”
Willkomm’s latest work is a novel she is currently writing about her family’s history of service. She shared about the powerful interviews she conducted with her father for the novel.
Chris Young, U.S. Army veteran and Drexel Class of 2012 graduate, presented to honor the late Chuck McNally, Jr., U.S. Army veteran and former Assistant Dean and Academic Advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences. McNally passed unexpectedly in September 2020 and is deeply missed by many at Drexel, especially those involved in veteran student efforts.
“It is because of people like Chuck that Drexel is so successful in supporting student veterans,” Young said, honoring McNally’s legacy of being welcoming of all, and always helping and being truly dedicated to the student veteran community at Drexel.
MaryAnn McNally, Chuck’s wife, joined in to read “In Flanders Fields,” a famous war poem by John McCrae, alongside her children Lucy, Charlie and Grace; Grace is a student at Drexel University.
In addition to honoring Chuck, Dr. Rebecca Weidensaul, Assistant Vice President of Student Life and overseer of the Office of Veteran Student Services, called for a moment of silent reflection to remember two more Drexel veterans: Johnny Cook, U.S. Army veteran and former College of Engineering student, and Adrian Jordan, U.S. Navy veteran and former College of Arts and Sciences student, both of whom were tragically lost in the past year.
“[We gather] to remember all of these Dragon Patriots who gave their all here at Drexel and are deeply missed,” Dr. Weidensaul said.
Jessica Wisniewski-Hagen, U.S. Navy veteran and former Drexel Veterans Task Force member, also spoke about Action Tank Living Memorials, which will plant a tree in honor of all Drexel veterans this November.
To conclude the ceremony, Jake Karwoski, a student in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health, and a member of the Drexel University Concert Band, played Taps on his trumpet in honor of the Retiring of the Colors.
While Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer for many, Weidensaul reminded attendees that the weekend should be both of celebration and of solemnity. Several at-home crafts and coloring activities were provided to show support of the powerful meaning behind Memorial Day.
Although all attended separately from home, the sense of togetherness and community at the 2021 Memorial Day Primer was as strong as ever.
“It is so important to remember the sacrifices people have been willing to make for our country, and we need to continue to appreciate that,” attendee Jim Hartz said following the event. “These moving tributes are all part of an important tradition that we as Americans, veterans and citizens need to be mindful of. Thank you for reminding us all how important it is to reflect and remember the sacrifices of ordinary people who stepped up.”
“Memorial Day is one of the most emotionally-charged days of the year,” Captain RJ Salavec, Assistant Professor of Military Science in Drexel’s Army ROTC, said; but Memorial Day serves as a powerful symbol of gathering and reflection.
A full-length recording of this year’s Memorial Day Primer can be viewed online at this link.