A new campus landmark at the University of Central Florida honors those who serve their country and fulfills an alumna’s dream of a new tradition.
The Veterans Commemorative Site, built on the south end of Memory Mall near the Student Union, recognizes the dedicated service and many sacrifices of all veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Its christening this morning attracted more than 500 guests, many of them highly decorated veterans from World War II to Vietnam and active duty members from the five branches.
“It’s our duty as American citizens to support and honor people serving in the armed forces,” said Evelyn Tonn, a 2007 alumna who has worked closely with campus leaders since her graduation to complete the vision that she first expressed as a student.
While no members of her immediate family have served in the military, Tonn says that she always has had a strong sense of patriotism and gratitude for veterans’ sacrifices.
“Sometimes we get in that academic bubble, and we don’t realize the sacrifices that are going on around us,” Tonn added. “It’s important to take a second look and realize that our forces are fighting for our freedom to learn.”
The center of the site features an 80-foot pole flying a U.S. flag, and it is surrounded by a cast-bronze circle. Five Carrera marble replicas of the U.S. Armed Forces seals are sculpted onto horizontal marble columns extending from the outside to the center of the circle, representing the military services working together to protect the nation.
Award-winning sculptor and artist Don Reynolds of Sanford designed and created the Veterans Commemorative Site, which was funded entirely by private donations. A Navy veteran, Reynolds also sculpted “The Charging Knight,” the statue in front of Bright House Networks Stadium that depicts a knight on its horse, and several other sculptures on UCF’s main campus.
Al Harms, a UCF vice president and retired Navy vice admiral, said UCF’s landmark is “singularly unique” because it recognizes each of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces – the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard – in a dignified and beautiful tribute to veterans and the nation.
“Magnificent young men and women chose to give up years of their lives for the benefit of all of us,” said Harms, who led fundraising efforts and directed construction of the site. “It’s important that we recognize and honor all of these exceptional people.”
What the university has done for student veterans is above and beyond, says Chris Galvan, secretary of UCF’s Student Veterans Association chapter. Galvan, who will graduate from UCF in December, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1998, serving in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“This country is founded on the sacrifices of others, which sometimes can get lost in translation,” said Galvan, who was awarded the Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan in 2005. “This site ties us all together to a common cause, protecting our nation and its freedoms.”
Nearly 1,000 veterans study at UCF each semester. To further accommodate their needs, a new Veterans Academic Resource Center will open next month in the UCF Arena, across the street from Barnes and Noble. The 3,400-square-foot space will include offices, study rooms and a lounge area.
The center will serve as a one-stop shop to help student veterans and their eligible dependents with services such as VA certification, enrollment, advising, counseling, career services, disability accommodations, tutoring and other academic support services.
The official opening is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 10, just before Veterans Day.
The creation of a virtual Veterans Academic Resource Center, designed to provide enhanced services for veterans at UCF’s Regional Campuses and educational programming for students and staff and faculty members, will be supported by a U.S. Department of Education grant. UCF received the grant, which totals about $367,000, as a result of being selected as one of the nation’s Centers for Excellence for Veteran Student Success. UCF is the only Florida public university to receive that designation.
UCF also has been honored as a “military friendly” school by G.I. Jobs magazine for the past two years. The list recognizes the top 15 percent of universities, private and community colleges and trade schools in the country that make recruiting and offering services for student veterans a priority.
In 2008, the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UCF 18th on its list of national institutions that enroll the most students with veteran benefits. UCF is one of only two large public universities on the 25-school list and is also one of the only institutions not located near a military base.