The following are my remarks to the Upper School student body at our community assembly on Monday, November 7, in honor of Veterans Day. Our community time also included a moving performance by our Upper School concert band and a presentation by Russell Logan about Operation Stand Down Huntsville. You can learn more about Operation Stand Down by viewing this 60 Minutes report.
Election Day occurs when it does because in 1845, Congress passed a law that presidential contests should be decided on “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November.”
Veterans Day occurs when it does because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Armistice with Germany went into effect to end World War I, the “war to end all wars.”
It is only an accident that our national election and our celebration of the service of our veterans occur within just a few days of one another, but it is a happy accident.
You are all, as Americans, participants in the most aspirational and ennobling project in the history of our species. Our nation, as Abraham Lincoln reminded us at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, also on a November day, in 1863, was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The election season that will finally end tomorrow has been characterized by extraordinary negativity. We have been reminded constantly that the Democratic and Republican nominees for president are historically unpopular, even within their own parties, and prophets of doom and gloom in our society are myriad.
But think of the voices that our great American project has encouraged over the last eighteen months. The grievances of citizens whose wages and economic prospects have stagnated and whose debt burdens have grown are very real. These grievances manifested on the left in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and they continue to manifest on the right in the candidacy of Donald Trump. The grievances of African Americans who seek equal justice under the law has manifested in the Black Lives Matter movement, which has evolved in parallel to the presidential contest.
Conversations about these issues are difficult but necessary to the health of our democracy. And the service of our military veterans has been and will continue to be the guarantee that these conversations, these things we call “elections,” and our American project more broadly, will endure.
As President Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
Honor our veterans: vote in tomorrow’s election. Or, if you are not old enough to vote, be informed nevertheless about both sides of the major issues that this election season has brought to the fore. It is such a privilege to be an American citizen and to participate in our sometimes messy democracy. On Election Day and on Veterans Day alike, I implore you never to forget this.