What the Monument Means to Me: Naomi Ling

“As a student who has actively campaigned to uplift Veterans’ stories in Howard County since 2018, I am delighted to support this monument being built. It symbolizes remembrance and honor of Veterans from all military branches, as well as their families’ contributions in this beloved community. For those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, citizens of Howard County will gather around this monument and give thanks, each and every day. Students especially will learn about the significance of Veterans’ heroic actions through this important campaign.

“My work with the Veterans community is intertwined with my passion for mental health advocacy. Growing up in a competitive school environment, I can’t remember the age I started to worry about college. I can’t remember exactly when I began comparing test scores, checking and rechecking my GPA, or being weighed down by the sheer workload. Looking back, I realize most of the pressure did not come from my parents, teachers, or friends—but from me.

“Then, the day after major college decisions in 2018, I heard the news: a beloved senior at our school had tragically taken his life. As unexpected as it was, his suicide was not the first one to happen in our community, but I knew I must take action to make it the last.

“Our insufficient societal response to mental health plagues me. Every day, teens are expected to carry the burden of excellence in a variety of environments such as school and extracurriculars, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress that are never truly addressed in educational institutions. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person social connections and crucial support systems, further exacerbating the issue. Even when we do discuss mental health, it’s often glossed over as a stigma, an abnormality that manifests as a loud and clear crisis. This blatantly ignores the silent symptoms, including withdrawing from social situations or loved ones.

“Where do Veterans come into this picture? Far too often we don’t see or acknowledge their efforts to preserve our country. It is clear that Veterans embody values that all of us strive for: courage, perseverance and a drive to succeed. As unsung heroes, countless Veterans struggle and have struggled with mental health, years after their acts of service. Countless Veterans don’t receive the resources, counselors or financial reimbursement they need to get back on their feet. Yet they still try, every day, to get up.

“The symbiotic relationship between us students and honored Veterans is a beautiful one—it keeps giving and giving back. Veterans adore being surrounded by youthful spirit, while students take away many messages of courage and resilience by hearing wartime experiences. Especially for that one teenager who may feel adrift in a raging storm of responsibilities, there is hope to be found in hearing words of wisdom, both on and off the battlefield, from a Veteran.”

Written by Naomi Ling, founder of Students Partner with Veterans

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