This week we recognize those who have served our country in the armed forces. Originally known as “Armistice Day,” Veterans Day started as a day to recognize those who served and died in World War I. Set to commemorate the 1918 Armistice with Germany that ended the war on “the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month” it would have either faded with the passing of time or become a more localized celebration for those with a tie to World War I had it not been for the efforts of one man.
Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran from Birmingham, AL, was director of Birmingham’s Armistice Day celebrations. However, he felt strongly that with the passing of yet another “great war” the day should be expanded to honor all service men and women. Starting in 1947 he began using the term “Veterans Day” to mark his events. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas took up his cause and a bill establishing Veterans Day was signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1954. Mr. Weeks continued to lead Birmingham’s Veterans Day celebrations until his passing. He was recognized for his efforts and awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Regan in 1982, just three years before he died in 1985.
I bring up the story of Raymond Weeks as an example for my students. Raymond Weeks was a “DO Leader.” He got involved. Then he took a leadership role. Then he made what he was doing meaningful to more people by engaging others. And he didn’t give up after a year or so knowing that change takes time. In the words of Dean Jarley, his work for Veterans Day was what made him “the ONE.” How can you use his example to differentiate yourself:
- Find a cause that you believe in. Can’t find anything? Then remember that Malcom X said, “A man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything!” Find something!!
- Get involved. Volunteer a weekend. If you like it, give them a week. If you still like it, give them a couple weeks. Doesn’t have to be all at once, but like a little kid walking into the shallow end of a big pool, get used to the water before you dive in. Don’t like that pool? Try another one and start over.
- Once you find a cause that you like, then discover what you can add. What is the piece that you will “own” and help bring to others?
- When you’re ready, step up to a leadership role. Not comfortable being a leader? Then you may need to keep looking for a cause that inspires you to lead!
- Now figure out what you need to do to bring the cause to others. Is your megaphone the action that you take? Is it the words and pictures that you share? Is it the people that you inspire to take the message to others? What can you do to spread the word and engage others?
- Finally, what will be your legacy? You can’t do this forever. You may have to move on due to professional obligations like relocation. You may have personal obligations like a sick child or parent. The cause cannot end because your involvement diminishes, how will it sustain?
Next semester students will be able to earn points in my class by being a “DO Leader” on campus. They can start organizations, plan events for their classmates, and lead service projects. I hope they will take that experience and continue to serve their communities after graduation. We need more people like Raymond Weeks. We need more DO Leaders.
Thank you Raymond Weeks, and Happy Veterans Day to all the men and women who inspire us to serve!