Syracuse University  Opening Doors for America’s Veterans
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Syracuse University Opening Doors for America’s Veterans

October 23, 2019


The real turning point in this country
was when they signed the GI Bill after World War II. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill of Rights. The greatest
invasion in all history. A million veterans pouring onto the college campuses of America. There never was such a mass movement towards higher education. And our Chancellor at the time, who was Pearson Tolley, flung open the doors of Syracuse University to some 10,000 veterans who were returning from that very critical period in American history. And when the government asked him if could he do this, he said “of course.” He was a can-do kind of guy. Chancellor William P. Tolley and his planners knew the situation called for bold, aggressive
action. A campus built for 6,000 students, swarming with more than twice that many. The campus bent itself out of shape to accommodate people. People just lived
everywhere. When I arrived there, about 19,999 other GIs arrived about the same time. So the campus was just jumping, and they put up all this
temporary housing, they put up the temporary classrooms. Quonset huts, barracks, dining halls,
trailers, there are six million dollars worth of temporary structures scattered
over this landscape. Classes were big, crowded, and it was feared that quality
of work would suffer. But soon, it was discovered the quality of work was rising to new all-time highs with the veterans leading the way. Those guys were very serious about their education. They’d worked hard for it, God knows. The mood of the campus was serious, that here were these adults coming back from the War who were competing for an education and the kids, the young graduates of high
school, were nicely affected by that. I always thought that they were very serious students, I was impressed with them. And they thought I was a kid, because I
wasn’t quite that serious. A lot of them were married, they had responsibilities
which I didn’t. You know, Syracuse University bent over backwards to make sure that the families could be involved with it, too. Prior to all of this, if you
were married you were not eligible for housing. But suddenly, you know, you had an older group of people coming in, who had lived through the Great Depression, who
lived through World War II, and now we’re trying to step up and become something
that no one before them in their family had an opportunity to do. And America was able to keep its promise to the veteran. That promise embodied in the GI Bill of
Rights was that our youth should not be penalized for having served cause and
country. The GI Bill changed America, because it was the first time that people of modest means could go to college. Certainly the GI Bill saved my bacon. If it hadn’t been for the GI Bill, I
wouldn’t have been able to come back to school. I’m forever indebted to the University for the help they gave me during that period. Here are the leaders of tomorrow on their way to leadership. Not boys and girls, but young adults with a goal view, and the will and character to reach
it despite obstacles. The GIs came back from WWII and they got a step up with the GI bill, and helped us invent the middle class. They became presidents, they became scientific leaders, they became our poets, they became everything we hoped America would be. And many of them came here not knowing that they would receive with respect to an education, but we did it in a way that
convinced them that they were in the right place, at the right time, and that
tradition has continued to today. And so Syracuse should take great pride in what we have done for decades. And this new center here at Syracuse for veterans and their families will help this new generation rise to the occasion. Now, we
can open up a book for them and help them see the possibilities, and maybe make the faces on Mount Rushmore grin.

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