As an Army veteran, Stuart Harris knows how meaningful a simple “thank you” is to someone who has served.
As a University of Southern Maine student, he found he could help make those thank yous happen.
Harris, a junior studying Finance, organized a recognition ceremony for veterans at Scarborough Terrace, an assisted living facility. Held on Veterans Day, the event recognized and honored the service of eight men and women, including a special Quilt of Valor honor for a 100-year-old woman who served as a nurse in World War II.
“Throughout history, veterans have not gotten the support that they deserve and need. And especially when it comes at an older age, people forget and it’s sad,” Harris said.
While he organized it, Harris was one of seven University of Southern Maine student-veterans to attend the event. Most wore sweatshirts identifying their branch of military service. Four USM staff members, including a veteran, and one student also attended.
During the brief ceremony, Harris called each of the elderly veterans forward and presented them with a certificate. Camden Ege, the university’s Assistant Director for Veterans Services, affixed a pin to their shirts.
Veteran George Bergeron had such a good time that he broke into a dance to the rhythm of the patriotic music that played in the background.
A few of the elderly veterans weren’t able to attend, though they were still honored during the ceremony. Because the World War II nurse was unable to attend, Brenda Lopez from Husky Veterans stepped forward in her place. Donna Brookings, Maine State Coordinator for Quilts of Valor, unfurled the quilt and wrapped it around her shoulders.
At the end of the ceremony, the student-veterans stuck around to talk with the elderly veterans and others at the assisted living facility.
Harris got the idea for the recognition ceremony from his mother, a hospice nurse in Arizona. Appreciation events were common there and he wanted to bring that to Maine vets.
“It meant so much to those people to have somebody recognize them and basically to see them and spend time with them. That’s something I wanted to do here,” Harris said. “I’ve been asked, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ I just think that’s the wrong question. The right question is, ‘Why hasn’t this already happened?’”
While he came up with the idea for the recognition ceremony, Harris credits others for helping his idea become a reality — including USM’s Veterans Services, Scarborough Terrace, and Quilts of Valor.
He hopes to add sites and make the ceremony an annual event, even long past his graduation.
“The plan was to set this up this year and get everything done and then have a running checklist of every person to contact at this location and everything I did down to the certificates, the pins, everything,” he said. “So that when I leave, somebody can just pick this up where I left off.”
For more on the recognition ceremony, see this WGME story.