As students went to and from class Friday on Northeastern’s campus, a red, white and blue wreath decorated the university’s veterans memorial. It was placed there after the school’s annual Veteran's Day ceremony, during which more than 100 students, veterans, alumni, family and community members gathered to celebrate those who serve their country.

The ceremony started with a presentation of the flag by Northeastern's ROTC cadets. The national anthem was sung by a cappella group Distilled Harmony. Several speakers  — including Paul Scherlek, president of the Student Veterans Organization, Maj. Joseph Luchetta, a professor of military science at Northeastern, Massachusetts Veterans Affairs Secretary Franciso Ureña and Northeastern president Joseph A. Aoun — thanked the veterans for their service. 

"To the veterans in the room, thank you providing us an example of true servant-leadership. We are utterly proud to be amongst your ranks," said Luchetta.

"The veterans themselves, who are here, part of the community, and students, too, have been leading the way," Aoun said. 

Maj. Joseph Luchetta, professor of military science at Northeastern University, speaks during the ceremony.
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Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun speaks during the annual Veteran's Day cermony.
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After the ceremony ended, those in attendance gathered around the memorial to salute the veterans present and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving.  

A section of Northeastern's veterans memorial.
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Northeastern University, home to more than 600 student veterans, is one of many colleges and universities around the nation working with the hundreds of thousands of veterans who pursue higher education each year. They are entitled to government assistance through the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, but many still face hurdles to getting their degrees. It can be difficult for veterans, who are often older, to fit in on campus. Often, their benefits don't pay for the full cost of tuition, which means they either have to take out loans or find work to make ends meet. 

In addition to its Student Veterans Organization, Northeastern is home to the Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers, or CAVS. The program helps prospective students, current students, alumni and other veterans navigate their education benefits so they can pursue meaningful careers. Its mission was born out of a desire to help veterans secure jobs after being discharged from the military, says Andy McCarty, an Air Force veteran who is the center’s director.

“At the time that we started down this path, we saw that one of the challenges that veterans were facing was employment,” McCarty said. “We really felt like we could make a difference there because we could leverage the relationships that we already have and the experiential opportunities that we could offer to try and provide a unique program … to veterans.” 

McCarty says many veterans attend an average of seven academic institutions before landing at the one that awards them a degree. While he says that is sometimes due to servicemembers being deployed or moving around, he says some of it is because not all institutions of higher learning have veterans’ best interests at heart.

“Unfortunately, there are institutions out there who see veterans and they see dollar signs. Nobody’s there to provide a high level of service,” he said. “So they end up transferring or kind of degree shopping as they bounce around because there’s not a great system in place to advise them in these decisions.”

To avoid this, CAVS helps veterans channel their skills into careers and partners with local employers such as Maximus, Inc., Dell EMC and State Street Corporation. CAVS also hosts networking events for employers who value veterans as part of their workforce.

And CAVS supports incoming student veterans through one of their biggest challenges — transitioning to campus life.

“They’ve probably been away from an academic setting for years, sometimes decades," McCarty said. “For anybody that’s been away for that long, they’re really trying to kind of play catch up.”

McCarty adds that typically, Northeastern’s student veterans are older than traditional students — sometimes even older than their instructors — which can lead to a feeling of not fitting in. But that’s another area where CAVS steps in to help, by fostering a community that resembles the camaraderie servicemembers experience while active in the military.

Northeastern student veteran Michael Pasqua (left) and CAVS director Andy McCarty.
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"When I was in the military, there was always some one there to ... help out whenever I needed it," said Michael Pasqua, vice president of the Northeastern's Student Veteran Organization and an Air Force veteran. "When I left the military, I wasn't sure where that support was going to be. When I saw that in the veteran organization on campus, I clicked with that group. We spend a lot of time together and reflect on our military experiences and experiences and students."

That camaraderie was apparent at Friday’s ceremony.

"It's really great to see people that are still really involved ... and celebrating what we do, because it's not easy," said ROTC cadet Aleksandra Pigor, a fourth-year student at Northeastern, who plans to join the army after she graduates. "It's cool to see people that have graduated and still are motivated to come back." 

Veterans, family and community members attend Northeastern's annual Veteran's Day ceremony.
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Members of the Northeastern ROTC Alumni Society gather around the university's veterans memorial.
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Northeastern’s relationship to the veteran community was formalized in 1918, when the U.S. government implemented a Student Army Training Corps program at the university. In the decades that followed, Northeastern offered training and education to service members, and was also one of only two universities in the greater Boston area that did not expel its ROTC students during the Vietnam War.

In 2009, the university invested $2 million in the Yellow Ribbon program, enabling more veterans to pursue higher education at Northeastern. And just last year, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post opened at the university, becoming only the second post of its kind run by student veterans on a college campus.