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On Veterans Day, Student Celebrates Military Path That Led Him to Swarthmore

Liam Santry outdoors, leaning on a rail

“The military gives you five years to think about what you want to do in life,” says Liam Santry '22, which for him includes law school, followed by something related to public service or public policy. “I just wanted to get the education I never had.”

It’s customary on Veterans Day for Americans to thank current and former military members for serving their country. However, despite his five years in the Navy, Liam Santry ’22 doesn’t always feel comfortable accepting the gratitude he receives when people learn he is a veteran. 

“It’s strange to be thanked for your service,” says Santry, a linguistics major and one of two military veterans in Swarthmore’s student body this semester. Unlike those who were drafted or served in combat, Santry says, “I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed enough for this country to deserve equal recognition.”

While humility was one of Santry’s biggest takeaways of his Navy career, where he earned the rank of petty officer second class as an air traffic controller and aviation administrator, his commitment to continued service is what led him to Swarthmore this spring, after completing two years of community college while stationed in Mayport, Fla.

Growing up in an underserved community in Jacksonville, Fla., Santry says he wasn’t challenged to pursue anything academically rigorous after high school. Instead, he found inspiration in his stepfather, an Army veteran of 20 years, and viewed the military as a way to serve his country and access greater opportunities. After some time in the service, Santry began to see he could also make a positive impact in a non-military role. 

“The military gives you five years to think about what you want to do in life,” he says, which for Santry includes law school, followed by something related to public service or public policy. “I just wanted to get the education I never had.”

“I admire what the Navy does to lift people out of certain situations in life,” he says. “The silver lining of my service is a newfound confidence in unfamiliar environments. It was never easy, but it tested my endurance and made me a better citizen. I will always be thankful to have served.”

When he applied to Swarthmore, seeking a place where he could study academics purely for academics’ sake, he wasn’t sure he would be accepted. 

“I chose Swarthmore because I believed that a liberal arts education could make me a more ethical, rational, and driven person,” he says. Two semesters in, that’s proving to be true: “The small class sizes and attention to detail my professors pay to my assignments make me a better student. The thoughtful and outspoken opinions I hear from other students make me consider my conclusions more carefully.”

These experiences will serve Santry well as he discovers his next opportunity to serve the nation — this time, as a civilian. He’s grateful the military set him on this path.

“I admire what the Navy does to lift people out of certain situations in life,” he says. “The silver lining of my service is a newfound confidence in unfamiliar environments. It was never easy, but it tested my endurance and made me a better citizen. I will always be thankful to have served.”

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