Gwinnett Technical College Unveils Beautiful New ‘Boots To Books’ Veterans Memorial
LAWRENCEVILLE — Gwinnett Technical College (GTC) kicked off the Memorial Day weekend with great honor and reverence today dedicating a new Veterans Memorial that will stand to honor servicemen and women in perpetuity.
The custom-crafted memorial stands on the front lawn of the Lawrenceville campus just outside Building 100 that houses Gwinnett Tech’s Office of Veterans Affairs. The centerpiece of the memorial is the bronzed boots and dog tags of Marine Sgt. John-Thomas (J.T.) Stokes, a recent graduate of Gwinnett Tech’s Radiologic Technology program. The dog tags are woven into the laces of the boots as they sit atop three textbooks, symbolizing the important transition many veterans make from enlistment to education. The bronze piece sits on a granite pedestal carved with the inscription, “Honoring Veterans Past, Present and Future.” Two reflection benches face the memorial. Etched on the benches are the words “Freedom Is Not Free” and “Never Forget.” Five flagpoles encircle the memorial flying proudly the flags of each branch of the armed forces.
Dr. D. Glen Cannon, President of Gwinnett Tech served as the master of ceremonies for the dedication service. The ceremony kicked off with the Duluth High School Color Guard presenting the colors. Jennifer Morse, GTC Move On When Ready Manager, sang the national anthem and Major Robert E. Powers, GTC Chaplain and member of the Georgia Wing Civil Air Patrol offered the invocation giving thanks for the courage, dedication and loyalty of the men and women in our armed forces.
Army Staff Sergeant Edward K. Robbins who serves as a Veterans Outreach Program Specialist with the Lawrenceville Vet Center, which covers 24 counties serving more than 200,000 veterans, shared words of praise and gratitude. Staff Sgt. Robbins offered his personal story of struggle as he sought to find his place in society after three tours of duty and told how vital it is for the community to lend strong support to veterans during their transition back home. Reflecting on remembering those who lost their lives, Robbins shared a quote from General George S. Patton - “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
Staff Sergeant Christopher Southerland, a GTC Commercial Construction student and President of the Student Veterans Organization, shared his testimony of how Gwinnett Tech helped him reengineer his path after serving 6 years in the U.S. Navy and 8 years in the U.S. Army. He said, “The military taught me logistics and how to drive a truck. I began working as a commercial truck driver but I was away from my family too much and homesick. I wanted to be home. I had big dreams but needed to find a way to make a change.” Southerland told how he attended an informational session at GTC with his wife, who was considering going back to school, and it turned out he enrolled and not her. Southerland shared his gratitude to Gwinnett Tech for respecting the values he was taught in the military and allowing him to use his leadership skills on campus to grow himself and others.
The crowd was eager then to hear from Sergeant J.T. Stokes who donated his personal combat boots and dog tags for the memorial. Sgt. Stokes gave a recap of his 9 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which included combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, “These boots have been to a lot of places and seen a lot of lands. They were very dirty. It’s great to see them restored today, all shiny and new.” Stokes told how supportive Gwinnett Tech has been to him and how they’ve helped him achieve his educational goals. J.T. is a proud 2016 graduate of GTC’s highly competitive and rigorous Radiologic Technology Degree program. He is now working in his field at Gwinnett Medical Center and pursuing his Bachelor of Medical Science Degree at Emory University. Sgt. Stokes made a point to recognize all of the veterans in attendance, thanked them for their service and said, “This monument is for all of you.”
Dr. Cannon then offered a grand countdown, “3-2-1,” and the bronze monument was unveiled. The crowd burst into applause as student veterans from each military branch raised their respective flags. Mr. Bill Brogdon, Executive Director of The Scott Hudgens Family Foundation laid a ceremonial wreath at the foot of the monument and a moment of silence was observed to remember and honor all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.
Mary Beth Byerly, Vice President of Institutional Advancement, shared just how fitting was that Mr. Brodgon present the wreath at the ceremony. She said, “Through the years the Hudgens family’s impact on GTC has been enormous. To date, they have donated over $6.5 million to the College; of that, nearly $1.6 million to meet the needs of veterans and their families. They made the initial gift to establish the GTC Office of Veterans Affairs and also created a Veterans Scholarship Fund which helps cover expenses when VA benefits fall short.” She continued, “Bill, we cannot thank you and the Hudgens family enough for sharing your vision and for allowing us the opportunity to enhance our services for veterans and their family members. We are honored that you are here with us today.”
Dr. Cannon remarked, “This ‘Boots to Books’ monument symbolizes Gwinnett Tech’s efforts to welcome and provide as much assistance as possible to our veterans as they make their transition to a new phase of their life and second great, successful career. With steadfast support, through educational programs that will ensure they have an opportunity to determine what that second career might be and then ensure they have best resources available to succeed. We are proud of our educational programs, grateful for all those who served in the military, thrilled to help in some small way repay them for their service, and ready and willing to welcome them into our GTC family.” In conclusion Cannon said, “What a wonderful, fitting tribute to all of our past, present and future veteran students that have and will trade their boots in for books. Thank you again to all our veterans. We know freedom is not free and we thank you for the price paid so that we can truly live, educate, work and live in the freest, greatest county the world has ever known.”
To learn more about Gwinnett Technical College’s Office of Veterans Affairs, visit http://www.gwinnetttech.edu/veteransaffairs/ or call 678-226-6343.
About Gwinnett Tech: Gwinnett Technical College, one of Georgia's largest technical colleges, is committed to delivering relevant knowledge to meet the workforce training needs of its community. The College offers more than 150 associate degree, diploma and certificate programs and hundreds of seminars, workshops and courses providing specialized training. Gwinnett Tech is Gwinnett County's largest provider of corporate training and also serves residents and businesses in north Fulton County. Gwinnett Technical College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award the associate degree. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Gwinnett Technical College. In addition, some college programs hold separate licensure or accreditation status with appropriate agencies. For more information, visit www.GwinnettTech.edu. A unit of the Technical College System of Georgia.