Elena Kagan has recently come under attack as someone who is anti-military. To place such a label on Ms. Kagan is unfair and ill-informed. I began law school at Harvard in 2007 after serving for five years as an active duty officer in the United States Army. During my first year at Harvard, Ms. Kagan was the Dean of the law school. Unsurprisingly, as a first year student I had little personal interaction with Dean Kagan. On the few occasions where we were in the same room though, her support of and appreciation for the military were clearly evident.
On my first day at the law school, Dean Kagan delivered a welcoming address to the incoming class. I was somewhat nervous that day, sitting among a group of people I didn’t know. I became even more nervous when the Dean began to introduce the class to each other. I no longer remember the specific accomplishments of those seated around me, but the Dean’s speech felt something like this to me: “You are each now part of an amazing class at the Harvard Law School. Seated among you are four astronauts, two platinum recording artists, an Olympic gold medalist…” As the honors and deeds of those around me were read off, I couldn’t believe I was getting to be a part of this group. “… and three veterans who have served in the military. Everyone should keep an eye out for these students and try to meet them when you get a chance.” At that point, I was taken aback by surprise. To Dean Kagan at least, not only did I belong at the law school, but the veterans were one of the special groups that others should feel honored to be associated with.
Later in the year, I had the rare opportunity as a first year law student to spend an evening visiting with the Dean. Around Veterans Day Dean Kagan hosted a dinner for the military veterans and their families. There were a dozen or less total people at the dinner, so we got a chance to interact closely with Dean Kagan. Her interest in and respect for our service was clearly evident. She spoke very little other than to express her gratitude and to ask questions about our experiences in the military. Her interest in and support of the military was obvious and genuine. Moreover, she made the veterans feel as if she was the one honored to have the opportunity to dine and visit with us for the night. This event, which Ms. Kagan started during her time as Dean of the Harvard Law School, meant a great deal to me and the other veterans.
Also at the time when both Dean Kagan and I were at the law school, numerous other attempts were made to emphasize the service of the military veterans, from articles published on the school Web site to highlights of veterans and their stories in alumni newsletters. During the time I knew her as Dean of the Harvard Law School, Ms. Kagan’s support of the military was clearly evident. Over the past three years Dean Kagan’s graciousness toward and support of the military when she was Dean have come up many times in conversations among the veterans. Dean Kagan made me and my fellow veterans feel welcome, appreciated, and revered for our military service, and made a point to highlight that service to the rest of the school. It would be an injustice to allow Ms. Kagan to be painted as anything other than the supporter and true friend of the military that she is.
Kurt White served on active duty in the Army for five years, leaving in 2007 with the rank of Captain. He is currently finishing up his joint graduate degrees in law and business at Harvard.