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By TNH Editorial Staff
It was 2008 and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, just 22 years old, found himself caught in the midst of situation more chaotic than most have ever had to experience.
Pitts was one of a nine-man group defending a small post outside the Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base in Afghanistan. The post was attacked by an estimated 200 insurgents set on taking the base. In a short time, all nine soldiers were wounded or killed, including Pitts whose arms and legs were bleeding from with shrapnel wounds.
Losing blood and nearing death, Pitts managed to upright himself and defend the base with methodical use of grenades and return machine gun fire. Eight men had died and he was the only soldier left to defend the post until reinforcements from the base arrived to help fight off the insurgents and re-secure the base.
Pitts was medically discharged from the army in 2009. Four years later, he graduated from the UNH Manchester business program with a near-perfect GPA. A year after that, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In May, he will speak before the UNH graduating class of 2015.
Many of the graduating seniors are the same age Pitts was when he fought with valor at the Battle of Wanat. Seniors should keep that in mind as they listen to his words and consider what kind of role they want to play in their communities after college.
Pitts is nothing short of a perfect selection for the commencement speaker, a decision seniors have anxiously waited for the last few weeks. He is a model of how one serves his or her nation, their community, and even themselves. Pitts’ academic recognitions are as glowing as his military accolades, setting himself up well for a career in business after serving in the military and studying at UNH-Manchester. But it is his service to others that he is most often recognized for.
Many may not have known his name when they first heard the announcement Thursday morning. Unfortunately, the men and women serving in the military hardly receive the distinguished recognition they deserve for their actions in defending our nation. Students, faculty, parents and anyone else planning to attend this year’s spring commencement should take the time to read up on Pitts’ story. It will undoubtedly help you understand why this is an excellent selection.
At the ceremony where Pitts received the nation’s highest military decoration, President Obama described Pitts as someone with “the humility and the loyalty that define America’s men and women in uniform.”
Alumni such as Pitts are the ones graduating students should look to as examples of how to live honorably outside the bubble of college. After commencement, graduates will be thrust out into an unchartered territory of life. No one ever knows what their future holds, but they can control the manner in which they want to live it.
The real world may seem daunting and the weight of anxiety that surrounds job searches and graduate school applications is bearing down on many seniors, but Staff Sergeant Pitts shows us that it is possible to survive against the most challenging of adversities.
His actions speak for themselves — what more could he possibly say? We’ll just have to wait for May 16.