Due to the impact of COVID-19, many Veterans Day commemorations across the country will be canceled or adapted to a virtual format this year. Our nation’s annual tradition of honoring the service of all veterans, however, will endure.
Veterans Day 2020 coincides with the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, marking 75 years since members of the Greatest Generation returned home to pursue a college degree. From the end of their war through the conflicts of today, veterans have used the GI Bill to build opportunities to give back to our nation by becoming tomorrow’s leaders. In a year that has brought leadership challenges and difficult decisions to the forefront of our lives, there has never been a better time to invest in the inherent abilities of America’s veterans to solve them.
Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and George H. W. Bush were both Navy veterans who served in WWII with connections to the GI Bill. In 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act began to democratize the previously exclusive opportunity of entering higher education. When President Johnson was a Congressman from Texas, he voted to pass the original GI Bill as a member of the 78thCongress of the United States. As a recently transitioned servicemember in 1945, President Bush enrolled in undergraduate classes at Yale while using the GI Bill as a WWII student veteran.
The benefits of this law, since expanded three times by Congress, continue to be seen today. In fact, there are presently almost one million Americans pursuing an education with support from the GI Bill. Approximately half of WWII veterans went to college after the war, compared to 68 percent of Post-9/11 veterans.
Twenty-seven percent of all current student veterans are women. Considering that only 11 percent of all living veterans are women, this is the largest population of our sisters in arms to ever attend college. African American and Latino/a veterans are slightly overrepresented in higher education and are attaining their degrees at higher rates than their peers. And like me, nearly two-thirds of student veterans are first-generation college students.
Most promising for the nation’s future, student veterans are out-graduating nearly all students in postsecondary education—achieving a success rate of 72 percent compared to the national average of 67 percent for those who have not served. This makes today’s veterans the most educated, diverse, and successful in the history of the United States.
The Post-9/11 Generation of veterans is building on the work and legacy of those who came before us, and as veterans we will continue to shape a better American future; a future open to all Americans. In using their GI Bill, student veterans educate themselves in preparation for a life of contribution—a second service—to become the leaders our country needs. This is the true legacy of the GI Bill. The Post-9/11 Generation of veterans can help solve whatever challenges America may face. These worthy volunteers are the very best of a generation.
Jared Lyon is the National President and CEO of Student Veterans of America (SVA), and a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is being recognized as the Grand Marshal of the 101st New York City Veterans Day Commemoration.