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With grateful hearts: Saluting Veterans, honoring their sacrifices

With grateful hearts: Saluting Veterans, honoring their sacrifices

FIU is celebrating our heroes and paying tribute to their service during Veterans Appreciation Month

November 10, 2021 at 1:47pm

Thank you.

Thank you to all who have served our country.

This Veterans Day, and every day at FIU, Panthers are committed to expressing their gratitude to the brave men and women who have fought for our freedoms and sacrificed so much for us.

More than 1,100 students at FIU are veterans or military-affiliated. More than 120 faculty and staff members are veterans. And nearly 4,200 alumni have already served our country and graduated from FIU.

To honor these courageous Panthers and all service members, this November FIU’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs launched a month-long lineup of events to commemorate Veterans Appreciation Month.

“We’re doing this to say thank you to our student veterans and to all our faculty and staff that served,” says Anthony DeSantis, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “This is a way to pay tribute and to acknowledge the work they’ve done prior to FIU, but also the work they’ve done at FIU.”

Serving the country is an extraordinary calling. Being prepared to give one’s life for the freedoms of the people is, purely and simply, heroic.  

For many of these real-life heroes, though, adjusting to civilian life and deciding to earn a degree after returning from service – and, in some cases, combat – isn’t easy. It often requires the same amount of courage and passion that led them to serve in the first place.

The office’s month-long celebration of veterans is the perfect opportunity, DeSantis says, to acknowledge everything they have done, the passion that fuels them, the can-do spirit that moves them and the heart of service that unites veterans across generations.



“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our service members for everything they have given and continue to give to our country. Thank you for all you do, seen and unseen.”

— Geneva Munoz '06, M.S. '17, access consultant, Disability Resource Center


"It’s cliche to say that not all heroes wear capes, but heroes don’t have hearts of steel either. Veterans have made personal sacrifices that have changed the courses of their lives, and ours. So thank you so much for protecting this country, and everyone who resides inside of it. Happy Veterans Day.”

— Nicholas Quintana, theatre major

To kick off the month, the office organized a showcase of American flags on the Graham Center North Lawn at MMC. Each flag recognizes a veteran in the FIU community, honoring their sacrifices. The flags will remain in place throughout the entire month, and everyone is encouraged to stop by, take a photo and tag @FIUVMA on social media.

On Nov. 8, the office, in partnership with the Office of Engagement, also hosted FIU’s Annual Veterans Day Appreciation Breakfast, which was completely free and open to the public. The event was established by the Office of Engagement in 2016 and has become a beloved campus tradition.

Panthers from all across the university and supporters from the community from all walks of life came together with full hearts, in a show of solidarity to express their gratitude to all veterans, and in a special way, to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in service.

The breakfast featured President Mark B. Rosenberg as well as keynote addresses by student veteran Lorena Guimaraes and Damon Friedman, a combat-decorated veteran who served four combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three hundred people attended the gathering and more than $20,000 was raised through an optional donation to support Veteran students on campus.

“The FIU Appreciation Breakfast was an extraordinary expression of patriotism, respect and gratitude for the dedication and sacrifice of military personnel and veterans at FIU and in the community,” says Staci Leon Morris, associate director for Clinical Services and Training – Community Based Research Institute and a research assistant professor at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. “It was humbling to attend. There was a palpable camaraderie in the room.”

"Winston Churchill said it well – 'Never was so much owed by so many to so few.' As a daughter and goddaughter of Marines, I grew up understanding the value of and sacrifices made by our armed forces. On this Veterans Day, I offer my deepest gratitude for everything they have contributed to our nation – particularly the safety and freedoms I am able to walk in each day."

— Breny DaParre Garcia ’05, ’07, Ed.D. ’15, associate vice president of Student Health & Wellness, Division of Academic and Student Affairs

A wreath-laying ceremony at the heart of the commemorations took place on Nov. 10 at MMC's Felsberg Veterans Plaza, which is named in honor of alumnus and U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Paul Michael Felsberg '03. Felsberg was killed in 2004 during his second tour of duty while serving in Iraq. His sacrifice is memorialized at FIU with a statue, located at the plaza.

"We live in freedom and celebrate liberty in part because of the sacrifices that millions of veterans have made in this country," Rosenberg said. "We salute those veterans today, we thank them for those sacrifices because we understand that freedom really isn’t free. Somebody has to defend it, and it’s our veterans who have continuously stepped forward to ensure that we are protected, to ensure our national security, to ensure that we understand that patriotism matters, that sacrifice matters and that country matters. Today we celebrate and every day we will remember that the privileges and joys that we have are in part because of our veterans."

Rosenberg and DeSantis laid a wreath of flowers at the foot of Felsberg's statue and led the Panther community in a moment of silence remembering Felsberg, as the distinctive bugle notes of "Taps," the tune that marks military funerals, played in the background. 

Supporting heroes

These events, says DeSantis, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to FIU’s commitment to veterans. At FIU, Veterans Day means working every single day to make the university a haven where veterans can access the resources and support systems they deserve.

The university has earned various distinctions for its dedication to these brave men and women. For example, FIU received the 2021-2022 Military Friendly School designation, ranking No. 7 among Tier 1 research institutions. That followed the office’s 2020 Colleges of Distinction Military Support Recognition award and ranking as a 2020 Top School for Veterans by U.S. Veterans Magazine. 

Most recently, the office was awarded a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Office of Post-Secondary Education to establish a center dedicated to supporting veteran students.

“I have the greatest appreciation and lasting gratitude for our Veterans and their families who have sacrificed for our country and our freedom. Thank you for your service. We must always honor your service.”

—Smilka Melgoza, associate director, FIU Foundation


"I know that your journey as a veteran has been arduous. Despite the challenges that regularly come your way, you have never lost sight of your commitment to protect our nation. Your willingness to continually make sacrifices so that we, as a nation, may prosper is unrivaled, and, for that, I am grateful. Thank you for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do."

— Carleen Vincent-Robinson, teaching professor and associate chair, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice. 

For DeSantis, whose father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, providing top-notch service for veterans is personal.

“When my father was going through the VA, I worked closely with him and saw how difficult it was, the challenges he faced,” he says. “I never want any student to have to go through that. We’re making sure that every veteran at FIU comes away with an experience that is valuable and impactful.”

DeSantis’ father passed away 11 years ago, but his legacy lives on in every student that DeSantis and his team helps.

At the end of the day, DeSantis says, everything FIU does to help Panther veterans — it’s just one more way to say “Thank you.”

To all veterans everywhere, we salute you and we honor you. We celebrate you this Veterans Day and always.

To express your appreciation to veterans, leave a thank you “note” in the comments below.  

To culminate the commemorative events, a home football game and tailgate on Nov. 20 will be dedicated to veterans and their families. View the full list of events

"I've worked with many veterans within and outside of my role at the university. I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done and continue to do on a daily basis."

— Cory Fairfield, academic advisor, College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts