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Veteran’s open letter to MTL

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Dear President Tessier-Lavigne,

Sorry to be responsible for the 17th open letter you’re getting this quarter. Thank you, though, for your kind Veterans Day note inside the wreath at the entrance to Memorial Auditorium. I am honored to be part of Stanford’s community, to have served this country and to have this day of warriors recognized, even in a small way. 

Thank you, also, for the reception provided by the Office of Military Affiliated Communities. The resources I receive both as a student and as a veteran at this school set a high bar for institutions across the country. Even on the coldest mornings after the shortest nights, I wake up deeply grateful to be at Stanford University.

I notice, though, that you ask readers to reflect on the names engraved on the plaques inside Memorial Auditorium — names of Stanford alumni who died in the line of duty. I appreciate the sentiment and acknowledge the value of quiet contemplation. But Veterans Day, to me, is not about being silent. It’s about speaking up.

To me, Veterans Day isn’t just for veterans. It’s a day for everyone to recognize we’re all affected by combat. It’s a day to pack the town halls, to shout from the rooftops, to dance in ceremonies. It’s a time to speak and listen, to tell stories of ugliness, loneliness and bitter humor. It’s a time for the tribe to bring back its warriors, to purge them of the ugliness of war, to show that they are one community, they have all been affected and they will all recover together.

It’s a time to hear about the Marine who shared his med kit with a child who was sick, about the man who was found paralyzed and abandoned in a ditch swarmed with flies. It’s about the hours sitting on an ammo crate, throwing rocks into an ammo can out of boredom, the nights spent with chewing tobacco packed in two lips to stay awake on a roof for sentry duty. It’s about the soldier who saw his daughter for the first time in a picture pulled from a dusty envelope, the wife who heard from her wife for the first time on a scribbled piece of stamp-less cardboard.

Whether we like it or not, we sleep peacefully at night because tough people make sacrifices and do violence on our behalf. These aren’t people who just go away for a while and come back. Their lives, the lives they still have, are never the same. We don’t need the day off or expect a town hall, but it seems that Stanford, a community so meticulously constructed for meaningful conversation, would have made a stronger effort to promote this exchange. For me, Veterans Day isn’t about saying “Thank you for your service,” but about saying “I welcome you home in spite of it.”

With gratitude and appreciation,

Nestor Walters

Finally, thank you to all the friends who made space in their lives for our stories.

Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Nestor was born in Bangladesh and raised mostly in Greece. When he was nineteen he moved to the United States to join the Navy, where he served for ten years. He is now a junior at Stanford University, where he is rumored to be the only person in the math department with cut-off t-shirt sleeves. He also dabbles in creative writing.