John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that our national day of independence would be “solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other.” He was referring, of course, to July 2, 1776.
That is not a typo. That was the date on which the Second Continental Congress had agreed the states ought to be free and independent and all allegiance to the crown of Britain should be absolved. Historian and author Pauline Maier notes that “holding our great national festival on the Fourth makes no sense at all — unless we are actually celebrating not just independence but the Declaration of Independence.”
Maier is the preeminent scholar on this era. She has a remarkable way of creating a narrative that portrays the “real story” of how our Founding Fathers brought forth both this document and the U.S. Constitution. If you think there’s intrigue going on in government today, read her amazing book “Ratification.” Some of the scheming that happened while getting the Constitution ratified will make you gasp!
Maier has written extensively about the day-to-day struggles with getting us to independence — and the process of gaining a consensus for the document we use as a focus of our modern-day “illuminations.” Even in those tumultuous days, the path was neither straight nor simple. Originally, only nine colonies voted in favor. When Congress took its final vote, there were 12 affirmative votes. New York, which had wanted to try everything possible to reconcile with Britain, was the last holdout but finally came around. In doing so, however, the colony noted the “cruel necessity” that made independence “unavoidable.”
During the eight-year war for independence, an estimated 250,000 served as regulars or militiamen. Of those patriots, 8,000 died in combat, and as many as 17,000 perished from other causes. Those who survived returned to their crafts or farms and continued their lives.
Today, 237 years after that fateful document was signed, the phrase “cruel necessity of independence” might well refer to the difficulty facing military men and women who are separating from service. Our economy is significantly weaker than it has been in years. As daunting and burdensome as the unemployment rate in the general economy, the rate among new veterans — especially among those under the age of 24 — was estimated at 20.4 percent in 2012, according to Time magazine. This is more than five percentage points higher than the similar, non-military cohort.
Insurance industry steps up
The good news is that our industry is stepping up to help these most deserving individuals. Two years ago, the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company gifted $2.5 million to create the nation’s first Center for Veterans Affairs at a nonprofit college specializing in the insurance industry. Eileen McDonnell, president and CEO of the company, said, “Our soldiers are world-class heroes, and they deserve a world-class opportunity in an industry that values their professionalism and commitment to protecting people. This gift of $2.5 million over five years is just the start — we see unlimited possibilities to identify men and women who would be superb life insurance producers and financial professionals.”
The grant was awarded to The American College, the source of much of our education and many of our designations, from CLU to ChFC to RHU and REBC. According to Larry Barton, president and CEO of The American College, “This gift will allow our College to help soldiers study while serving in any country, in any capacity and learn about insurance and financial security before they are redeployed home.”
Full scholarships are available to recent veterans, active military members, national guardsmen and reservists. Spouses of veterans are also eligible and encouraged to apply. The college named Tony Boquet as the executive director of the Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs. Many readers know Boquet from his frequent visits to industry meetings and trade shows or from his lecturing and other presentations.
I recently caught up with Boquet and asked him for some details about the now two-year-old program. In the first year, the goal was to award 10 scholarships; 11 scholars were accepted into the program. In the first half of this year, they exceeded last year’s goal and are steadily growing toward a long-term target of 65 a year. Louis DiCerbo II, an early graduate of the program, says, “The FSS program is more than just theory. It is hands on practical experience that will serve you well as the foundation for becoming a value-added, trusted advisor.”
Beyond the educational component of the program, Boquet evidences a strong emotional component as well. “I am very proud to be doing this”, he said. “Our military personnel deserve as much as we can give them when they come back from serving our country. The little bit we are helping will pay off big time in their future development.”
The college is engaged in an active program to get more companies involved with the center. At present, four companies have invested or contributed dollars toward the program. While Penn Mutual has thus far been the most aggressive, Boquet says they are seeing a lot of people coming in who want to endow scholarships on behalf of their father or mother who may have served. “That was unexpected, but very cool,” he says. “It is a great opportunity for gifting.”
The center has a board that includes educators as well as current and retired military. In addition to providing scholarships, the board works closely with the military to “translate” military codes into language and descriptions that HR professionals in the private sector can use to place retiring military in their enterprises. Board members are also looking at a lot of different ways to benefit our veteran populations.
If readers know people in the military who deal with the transitioning process, please contact Boquet directly (email@example.com) so the center can continue to add to the list of key people with whom they interact. He can also direct you to the appropriate resources if you want to help the program to grow.
On this celebration of our nation’s independence, it is great to see our industry helping veterans with the cruel necessity of their independence. “If we can position them better in the next part of their career,” Boquet said when we chatted, “that’s a great way to thank them for the service they have provided to our country.”
On the Fourth of July, we reflect on the acts of patriots of long ago. It is good to keep the patriots of today in mind and to know that our industry is doing its part for them.
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