Universities around the country train young men and women to become officers in the United States Armed Forces through the ROTC, a division of Student Affairs. Participation in these programs becomes an integral part of students’ collegiate experiences, and they sometimes have a wish to give back to others through philanthropy. For that reason, it is essential that Student Affairs professionals are able to share the important work they do in a manner inspiring to donors.

This Memorial Day, consider the powerful story this ROTC officer shared with us to exemplify why he is passionate about his work.

When I became a general officer, I presided over several funerals. It was tough for me to do, but it was something I was willing to do because I felt it was the right thing to do, to honor our young men and women who have died in service to our country.

And the first one I did was for a young West Point graduate who was from a small town in Nebraska. He was the oldest of three brothers. He had been killed in Iraq. I went to Virden, Nebraska for the funeral, and it was January and bitter cold.

After the memorial service, we went to the gravesite to get ready to render final military honors. Driving all the way out there in these bitter, cold conditions, on both sides of the sides of the road were men, women, and children holding American flags, standing out there in that bitter cold and honoring this young man.

My last official function was to hand the flag to the mother, and you normally say something along the lines of, “On behalf of a grateful nation, and the president of the United States, we present this flag to you, and thanks for your son’s faithful service to our country.”

But I didn’t say that. I got on my knee and handed her that flag and said, “I know there’s nothing I can say that can assuage the loss you must feel right now. But I hope you know how grateful we are as a nation for the sacrifice your family has made for all of us. And that when you see this flag, you’ll remember what a fine young man you raised, and how we’ll always be in debt to him for the sacrifice he’s made for our country.”

His mother looked at me and said, “General, thank you and all of our soldiers for what you do for our country every day. And don’t you worry, I’m going to keep sending you my sons.”

Now as the Commandant of Cadets at a major U.S. university, the officer has had the opportunity to share his passion for serving his country with hundreds of cadets. When he speaks with donors, he shares this powerful story—as well as a surprising ending.

My first year here, as the Commandant of Cadets, I was welcoming all the new cadets, and up walked this big, strapping young man. I said, “What’s your name? And where are you from?” He told me his name and said, “I’m from Virden, Nebraska.” I was about to ask him his name again, when I looked to his right—and there was that mother.

She said, “General, I never forgot what you told me that day and what it meant to me and my family, and when I found out you were [at this university], I wanted my son to come down here and be a part of this.”

Ask and Act:

    • What makes you passionate about the work you do?
    • What sacrifices have others made that have inspired you?
    • What stories can you share to help donors see the importance of the work you do?