CRYSTAL LAKE – Solemn pride and heroism were the focus of McHenry County College’s annual Veterans Day ceremony Friday.
MCC’s 12th annual ceremony featured patriotic music from the college concert band and chorus, the presentation of flags, and speeches from student veteran Collin Wilson and keynote speaker Capt. Michael Czarnik – a Woodstock resident who serves as chief of staff for the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Don Curfman, faculty adviser for the MCC chapter of Student Veterans of America, and MCC President Clinton Gabbard provided opening remarks.
“McHenry County College is just part of the home that is a place for our returning veterans,” Gabbard said. “We bear the responsibility of making that home hospitable. We take the responsibility very seriously.”
The college actively seeks grants and funding for its veteran resources, which has helped student veterans get laptops, books and education grants. The college also recently expanded its student veteran space, Gabbard said.
“But way beyond money, we continually ask our employees to understand the challenge of re-entering the community,” he said. “We want [student veterans] to feel like this is a place, not just where you take classes, but where you thrive. We want to be there for you just as you were there for us.”
McHenry County College serves between 100 and 150 student veterans. The school strives to provide resources to those students, said Christina Haggerty, vice president of marketing, communications and development with the college.
“It’s very important for us to have a formal way to honor all those people who have served our nation and who continue to serve,” she said. “It’s also a way to reaffirm our commitments to the veterans who are students re-entering education and how important it is for us to have the resources in place to make things as easy as possible.”
Czarnik spoke about his own experiences in the ROTC and Navy, along with what that has taught him about leadership.
“I started learning it a long time ago, starting in Boy Scouts,” Czarnik said. “Leadership is something that evolves over time. Everyone has a chance to be a leader at some point in their life. It’s a matter of seizing the moment, and that moment can be the one and only time.”
Czarnik spoke about the history of the holiday, which was established after World War I.
“When you think about Veterans Day, it’s not balloons and streamers,” he said. “It’s solemn pride and heroism. That takes a moment to sink in. It’s really a chance for us to reflect on all the people who have been here before us to serve our country.”