Cornell honored its military community at the second annual Military/Veterans Reception, celebrating achievements including Cornell’s designation as a Purple Heart University, the only Ivy League institution to receive that recognition.
About 150 students, staff, senior leaders and members of Cornell’s Veterans Colleague Network Group (VCNG) attended the Aug. 23 event in the Memorial Room in Willard Straight Hall.
“It’s wonderful to gather together at the start of the new academic year to celebrate this community,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said, acknowledging the breadth of veterans’ influence at the university. “This afternoon is a chance to bring everyone together and thank our service members and veterans on behalf of all of us at Cornell. We are grateful for your service in our country’s military and for your contributions to our community.”
Cornell was formally recognized as a Purple Heart University by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The designation acknowledges the university’s efforts to support veterans who have received a Purple Heart Medal resulting from combat injuries.
Debra Howell, chair of the VCNG and director of information technology operations at Cornell University Library, proposed this initiative, which gained support from Cornell’s military community. Howell wrote the University Assembly’s (UA) Resolution #6, declaring that Cornell is committed to honoring the service and sacrifice of its military community and those wounded in combat. The resolution was unanimously approved by the UA in March, then by President Martha E. Pollack in April.
“I am so incredibly proud,” said Howell, who was the UA’s veterans representative-at-large during the 2022-23 academic year. “I care deeply about our veterans community, and seeing this come to fruition is so meaningful. Cornell becoming a Purple Heart University sends a message of respect and fosters a sense of belonging. This designation proves that veterans are seen and that they belong at higher education institutions.”
Randi Rainbow, vice chair of the VCNG, created a plaque to commemorate the designation, which will be permanently displayed at the Veterans Program House.
“As a veteran and a member of the Cornell community, creating this plaque gave me the chance to give something back to the university that is an extension of myself,” said Rainbow, information technology director at the College of Human Ecology (CHE). “Knowing that new Cornellians will see the plaque and be affected, even in some small way, allows me to feel an ongoing camaraderie with the brothers and sisters who come after me.”
CHE received the Above and Beyond Award from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, for its exemplary support of veterans. The award recognizes employers who have shown exceptional support for their guard and reserve employees. Shaun Gendrue, assistant director of student and career development at CHE, nominated the college for the award after having returned from a yearlong tour of duty in Kuwait with the New York Army National Guard. Col. Roxellen Auletto presented the award.
With the fall semester underway, Kotlikoff encouraged those in attendance and within the military community to continue to support one another, acknowledging the positive effects of this collaboration.
“I hope you feel the support and mentorship of the individuals here at Cornell, which will hopefully help your subsequent success,” Kotlikoff said. “Our entire community benefits from the insights and perspectives you all bring.”
Grace DePaull is a writer for the Division of Human Resources.