By Madison Turner

As a nation, we take this day to observe, honor and recognize the bravest men and women in our country’s history– our veterans.

From kindergarten to senior year of college, sixteen November 11ths have filled the academic careers of our current senior class.

We were the last class of first graders to celebrate Veterans Day in a pre-9/11 world.

We were in second grade on the Veterans Day that marked two months since the towers fell on 9/11. Two months since we had seen videos of planes crashing into buildings, pictures of people falling from the sky, our moms, dads, and teachers crying. Two months since we learned that there were in fact, real villains in this world who could do evil things and hurt real people. Two months since we realized that superheroes who fought those villains were real, too, only they didn’t always wear capes like in the movies. We saw them in dog tags, boots, and uniforms. They were so brave that there was a day every single year to thank them for fighting to keep us safe. And that year, it fell exactly two months since the day our world had changed forever.

Fourteen years later, as seniors in the School of Public and International Affairs at UGA, we celebrate Veteran’s Day with a much deeper appreciation for our veterans. An appreciation solidified through studying government, international relations, terrorism, national security, and politics extensively over the past four years in earning political science and international affairs degrees. An appreciation grounded in the realization that this very education is only possible because of the men and women who have served to protect our freedom.

Sometimes I hear talk radio hosts or television anchors talk about the Millennials, the name they’ve given my generation, and they say that we are the most ungrateful, narcissistic kids America has seen so far. Of course I’m a little biased, but looking at my senior class, I think those media critics have it all wrong. It would only take about five minutes in any given SPIA classroom to overhear thought provoking student-led discussions on patriotism, empowerment, education policies, or economic advancements. We write papers with proposed solutions on how to end congressional gridlock, increase homeland security, properly care for our disabled veterans and help soldiers coming home with PTSD. We volunteer through SPIA organizations to feed the homeless in our community, distribute books to families who cannot afford them, mentor children living in poverty in the local school district, hold 5K fundraisers to support UGA’s ROTC, and the list goes on and on.

When you are in the second grade, you still believe that the world is divided into good people and bad people and superheros and villians. In second grade you are not old enough to understand the magnitude of an attack on your homeland, but you are old enough to start to understanding what fear feels like and what bravery looks like. In second grade we saw bravery in the men and women that ran into the buildings to rescue survivors. We saw bravery in the men and women that ran to sign up or re-enlist to defend our country from any further attacks. We still see this bravery, today, in all of our nation’s veterans. It is this selfless bravery and sacrifice that has inspired me and my peers to honor our veterans by achieving the higher education they fought to defend. To choose to study and work in public and international affairs so that we can strive to make our world a better, safer place for our future families. Most importantly, to be the generation that appreciates our veterans in the way that they absolutely deserve. So to all of our veterans, we thank you. We thank you for your bravery, your sacrifice, and for the protection of our freedom.

Happy Veterans Day.