SMC Invites Veterans to Speak at Memorial Day Event

Despite some earlier drizzle and an overcast sky, Santa Monica College held it’s Memorial Day Commemoration outdoors on the campus quad this Thursday, May 24. But the event's disappointing turnout that felt all too familiar to Glen Pena, a Marine and an Iraq war veteran who was one of the speakers who came to campus for the event.

“We had amazing speakers… usually a lot of these events on the college campuses, they’re not that advertised so it’s hard to get a lot of students," Pena said. "All in all, I’ve done several of these and this is one of the better ones." Despite the low turn-out, Pena said he was happy to come to the campus to speak.

The event began with a welcome address by Army veteran and SMC student Sharon Taylor. Students from the North High color guard then marched onto the makeshift stage, holding both the American and California state flag as Taylor led the pledge of allegiance. After the pledge, Tomas Suarez, Jr., an SMC music student, was brought in to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Cynthia Gonzales, a professor at SMC, spoke about the history of the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Gonzales read the poem “In Flanders’ Field” by John Mcrae, a Canadian World War One veteran which inspired Moina Michael to hand out red poppies as a way to honor veterans. Michael then used the poppy as a means to raise money for veterans, and employed disabled veterans to make poppies since, as Michaels’ said, “The soldiers who made the poppies for sale in America were classified as unfit for any employment because of their injuries.”

The second half of the event was hosted by Army veteran and SMC student Geselle Darby, who introduced the two guest speakers and read the poem, “You will be remembered.” The first guest speaker was Mickela Montoya, a National Guard veteran who served in Iraq. Montoya recounted her motivations for signing up, including the fact that she never thought she would get deployed overseas as a member of the National Guard. 

Additionally, she thanked not just her fellow servicemen and women, but also the Iraqis who risked, or in some cases, lost their lives while helping the American military. Pena spoke of the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while doing their job and gold star families. Pena ended by reading Archibald MacLeish’s The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak," which concluded with, “Our deaths are not ours, they’re yours. They will mean what you make them.”

Gonzales, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, said about the low turnout, “I wish we had more of a turnout because I think the messages were really important. They were messages of inclusion… a remembrance of everyone who has sacrificed for the freedoms that we have, and it would be great for those messages to reverberate through our campus.”