BOONE — App State held its Veterans Day Ceremony on Friday, Nov. 11, in the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building, with remarks from App State graduate student and U.S. Army veteran Morgan Gibbard ’22.
The ceremony opened with App State’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps presenting the colors, and Brent Bingham ’85 ’93 — former arts production specialist and lecturer in the App State Hayes School of Music — performing the national anthem.
Opening remarks were made by Dan Layzell, App State vice chancellor of finance and operations.
“For more than 100 years, this day has been set aside to honor and commend those who have served our country in the armed services,” said Layzell. “At App State, we commemorate this day and recognize student, faculty and staff veterans and their families, and take the opportunity to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.”
Layzell said App State currently enrolls 255 student veterans and 93 active-duty military members and employs 72 staff and faculty veterans. He said App State is also among the University of North Carolina System institutions with the highest enrollment of military spouses and children.
For 13 consecutive years, App State has earned Military Friendly® School designations in recognition of the university’s efforts to help military-affiliated students thrive on campus and in the surrounding community.
On Veterans Day in 2016, App State Chancellor Sheri Everts opened the Major General Edward M. Reeder Jr. Student Veteran Resource Center to give military students access to mentoring, tutoring and various other forms of support. Gibbard, this year’s featured speaker at the Veterans Day Ceremony, is one of the many students who have been able to utilize that center.
Gibbard graduated magna cum laude from App State in May with a degree in social work and is pursuing a Master of Social Work with a focus on community and organizations.
During her address, Gibbard said the military has always been a part of her story. The day after she was born, her father left for Operation Desert Storm.
“As most things come full circle, I was boots on the ground in Kuwait with my mother on my 22nd birthday — the same sand my father walked on a few days after my birth,” she said.
Gibbard described the selflessness of service members and the small sacrifices they make along with the large ones, such as missing holidays, births and birthdays.
She concluded by speaking to the continued importance of honoring and supporting veterans.
“If you can offer time to a veteran, take the time,” she said. “At the core of their being, veterans are just like everyone else in the sense that they want to be accepted, loved and connected.”
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J.J. Brown then made closing remarks.
“Fewer than 1% of our population serves in the U.S. military,” he said. “At App State, we are proud to recognize these heroes and thank them for their service.”
About Morgan Gibbard
Gibbard is a Watauga County native who grew up in Boone, attended Hardin Park Elementary School and graduated from Watauga High School in 2009.
After graduating high school, Gibbard enrolled in the U.S. Army Reserve. She completed her basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 2010 and then went on to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for her training as a combat medic and physical therapy technician. She finished her training at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
Gibbard then returned to North Carolina and was assigned to a unit in a combat support hospital out of Greensboro. In 2012, she deployed with a unit out of Bell, California, to Kuwait, where she worked in a physical therapy clinic at a hospital through 2013. Once she came home from deployment, she was moved to Colorado as part of a reserves unit based in Denver.
After 10 years of service, Gibbard was honorably discharged for medical reasons.
“It was sort of heartbreaking, because I planned to retire from the Army,” she said.
But Gibbard is happy to be back in her hometown and attending App State. As an undergraduate student, she interned with Ashe County Community Paramedics, and now, as a graduate student, is interning with The Bridge International — an organization that spreads awareness and gives support to survivors of human trafficking.
Gibbard is a fifth-generation military member, and her family has strong ties to App State. Her father, Bob Gibbard, worked at App State after retiring as an Army officer, and many alumni remember him as their adviser when they were transfer students and student veterans.
“When my dad retired from the military we settled in Boone, so I’ve kind of grown up around App State,” said Gibbard. “With my time in the military, it was important for me to be in an environment that felt supportive toward my background. I find that the Appalachian culture of going out into nature, or being a part of your community, aligns with some of the values that I connected to in the military.”
Gibbard said she was honored to be able to give back to the App State Community as the guest speaker for this year’s Veterans Day Ceremony.
“My heart is filled that I was even considered to be able to represent the veteran community,” she said. “I’m hoping my message will bring more connectedness between veterans and community members. I’m hoping I can bring forth the idea that no matter what uniform we wear — or don’t wear — we all have a human responsibility to show up for each other and support each other in any way that we can.”
Gibbard said some of the best ways the community can support and honor veterans are to volunteer at local veterans centers, vote on regulations that help support veterans, support nonprofits that help those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and send care packages to veterans and active military members.