As Memorial Day approaches, it’s natural for our minds to drift to summer – thoughts of firing up the grill, getting a boat in the water, or vacation travel would (at least in normal times) tantalize us through workdays that seem to grow longer as the weather outside improves by the day.  

Here at Harvard, the campus is quiet. Under the restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19, the halls and lawns of HBS are eerily mute. Sunlight falls on solitary landscapers installing fresh sod and shoveling mulch around spring plantings, while now-rare students have given up gaggles between classes for nods behind masks as we pass one another en route to remotely administered final exams. To call it strange is an understatement.  


I’ve found this new normal, however – beauty and potential tinged by loss – analogous to how many veterans like me experience Memorial Day. Since its creation following the Civil War, Memorial Day is the U.S.’s single national holiday dedicated to remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation’s wars. The excitement of summer’s beginning, at least in this veteran’s experience, often also includes grief and sorrow. Fluttering flags amidst rows of white marble headstones remind me of all – especially those I followed, fought alongside, and led – who lie interred in veterans' cemeteries from Arlington to Sacramento. In a real sense, those who volunteered to go in our place gave of themselves and their futures to secure a common good. I miss them terribly, and I know I’m not alone in that.  

Finishing my first year at HBS, I find myself asking this Memorial Day: what might it mean to remember them well? I think we owe more than simple sentiment. My ten years as an infantry and Special Forces officer in the Army taught me the limits of pure well-wishing – “hope alone is not a course of action,” one of my commanders loved to say. I believe remembering well means both taking stock of where we’ve been, and taking action – in service – going forward.  


One of the greatest gifts HBS has given me is the time and space to examine where I’ve been. A decade of training exercises, cross-country (or global) moves, and deployments were deep with significance. Still, I realized that I’d been both literally and figuratively ‘under a rucksack’ for my twenties - head down, charging off to the next adrenaline rush. I needed to revisit my ‘desired end state’ and ensure I had the skills to get there. While business school is far from the only way to reevaluate your life goals and purpose, it’s a really fantastic one: HBS’ professors, the Career and Professional Development office, and (especially) my peers here have opened my eyes to worlds of possibility I didn’t even know of in the military, with a deep-seated, organization-wide commitment to helping students build and get to whatever success looks like for them.  

HBS has also given me the tools and resources to take civic-minded action after graduation. My time here has taught me that the military does not have a monopoly on selfless service – countless businesses and non-profits, both domestic and around the world, are doing incredible things to alleviate human suffering, drive systemic change, and provide dignified employment to people who need it. The HBS experience has given me the ability to move out with confidence in the direction of my next chapter of service – owning and operating a small business in mid-market America that can have real impact on the lives of veterans for years.  

So what would it mean to “remember well” for you? This Memorial Day, as the world seeks its footing in a time of unprecedented need, it’s worth asking the question.