Congressman Bilirakis Provides Keynote Veterans Day Address

November 10, 2017

ROTC Color Guard

Saint Leo University recognized and honored those who served their country during its annual Veterans Day ceremony on Friday at University Campus. The ceremony was live-streamed so students, faculty, and staff everywhere could watch and join in the celebration.

U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, gave the keynote address. In introducing Bilirakis, Saint Leo’s Vice President of Business Development, Robert Quinn, noted that the congressman is a “good and gracious friend of Saint Leo University.”

Bilirakis serves as vice chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is co-chairman of the Military Veterans Caucus. In those roles, he has worked diligently to help the area’s veterans. In his address, Bilirakis noted that the price of freedom is not free, not only for those who serve in the military, but also for their families. He said it is not enough to be grateful and to celebrate veterans and their service on one day a year.

“Veterans are truly some of the most amazing people that I have the pleasure to meet,” Bilirakis said.

One similarity among all veterans is they formed a new family when they joined the military, he said. “We have a family here at Saint Leo,” Bilirakis said. And those serving also find brothers and sisters among their comrades in arms.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis gives Veterans Day speech at Saint Leo University

He praised the skills that those who serve gain during their time in the military including the ability to work under extreme pressure and to work as effective team members. “Any CEO would be lucky to have you on your team,” Bilirakis said.

One of his most crucial jobs as a U.S. Congressman is “giving you what you need to make a successful transition to civilian life,” Bilirakis told the veterans gathered. “I was concerned about the lack of diversity of treatment of stress-related disorders. If veterans’ mental health is not right, they will not make a successful transition.”

To that end, he sponsored the Promise Act and Cover Act, which provides funding for alternative therapies for veterans including therapy dogs, hyperbaric chamber therapy, and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)—all documented to help with post-traumatic stress disorder.

photo of Gus Bilirakis, Bob Quinn, Eric Cox, Jennifer Harman

Student-veterans Eric Cox ’18, and Jennifer Harman ’18, also spoke at the ceremony. Cox, who served in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2009, is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in computer information services. He cited the commonalities of Saint Leo University’s core values and the values held by the military as beneficial to student-veterans. Cox said the similar values helped him transition to civilian life.

Cox recognized his computer science and cybersecurity faculty members, including master of ceremonies Dr. Michael Moorman, who served in Vietnam.

“You can’t spell Saint Leo without ‘veteran.’ You can’t spell Florida without ‘veteran,’ and you can’t spell America without ‘veteran,’ ” Cox said, emphasizing the importance of veterans to the university, state, and country.

Harman noted her place as one of the few female veterans in her program. She is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in creative writing. Harman served in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 2003 to 2013.

She recognized fellow female veterans, Brooke King, who is an adjunct faculty member and author, and Pamela Martis, associate vice president of the Office of Military Affairs and Services and U.S. Army colonel (retired).

Harman said student-veterans’ needs are different from traditional students. Student-veterans usually are older, raising families, and working. At Saint Leo, more than 5,000 students are active-duty military, veterans, ROTC, reservists, or military family members. The university focuses on meeting the needs of its student-veteran population.

Students Eddie Gemma and Olivia Callahan provided a fitting closing for Saint Leo’s Veterans Day ceremony with renditions of “Arlington,” and “God Bless America,” respectively.