Memorial Day Ceremony Spurs Deep Thoughts

Xóchitl Rodriguez Murillo speaks on stage at event.
Xóchitl Rodriguez Murillo ’08, deputy secretary for minority and underrepresented veterans at the California Department of Veterans Affairs, urged attendees to remember the meaning behind Memorial Day. (DJ Nicholson/UC Davis)

As a popular study spot, the Memorial Union is a common place for deep thought. Last week it became a place for the kind of deep thought reflected in its name as dozens gathered for the annual UC Davis Memorial Day Ceremony, honoring Gold Star Aggies who died in military service to the United States.

“We owe a debt to those who died in service to this nation,” said keynote speaker Xóchitl Rodriguez Murillo ’08, deputy secretary for minority and underrepresented veterans at the California Department of Veterans Affairs and a sergeant in the Army Reserve. “It is important to their collective legacy that we remind others why they can spend this holiday swimming and barbecuing as the unofficial beginning of summer.”

She said she is proud to work for an agency that advocates for California’s veterans.

“To me this is what Memorial Day is all about,” she said.

ROTC cadets place flags on the Quad.
Jheyaun Wang, left, and Sehij Brar and two other Army ROTC cadets placed 136 flags on the Quad’s Centennial Walk, each representing a Gold Star Aggie. (Nathan Rolls/UC Davis)
American flags are on display outside of the Memorial Union
Another 136 flags were on display on the Memorial Union’s North Plaza, where the Memorial Day Ceremony was held. The building houses the Golden Memory Book. (DJ Nicholson/UC Davis)

Chancellor Gary S. May, speaking at his first Memorial Day Ceremony on campus since joining UC Davis in 2017 (having missed the others because they conflicted with Board of Regents' meetings), said he hoped the day would remind attendees of the meaning behind the Memorial Union, which is so named in memory of the Gold Star Aggies.

“It's an honor to be here to pay my respects and honor to the courageous Americans who have died while defending our nation and our best ideals,” he said.

Kevin Alvarez walks off stage
Kevin Alvarez

The speakers were followed by six students affiliated with the Veterans Success Center, who read the names of the 136 Gold Star Aggies — students and alumni who died in military service dating back to World War I and as recently as 2017.

“It reminds me a lot of why I initially signed up to join the military,” said Kevin Alvarez, a junior environmental policy analysis and planning major and a senior airman in the Air Force Reserve. The event happened to fall on the four-year anniversary of the day he enlisted. “Reading off their names is a small way to say thank you.”

Henry Chong-Heng Yang, a junior majoring in environmental science and management who served in the Army from 2005 to 2014, said he felt “a void of information” looking at the list of names he would be reading, until he saw a flower petal fall from the wreath on display during the event.

“It feels just like that,” he said. “They never got to bloom at all.”

He wiped tears from his eyes as he described the emotion he felt while listening to taps being performed by fellow undergrad Evan Ichiro Yamada.

Yang said reflecting on the names of the Gold Star Aggies “triggered a philosophical debate” within him about the purpose and toll of armed conflict around the world.

Learn more about our Gold Star Aggies by reading their stories in the digital version of the Golden Memory Book, which is on display in the east wing of the Memorial Union.

Evan Ichiro Yamada performs taps.
Evan Ichiro Yamada performs taps at the Memorial Day Ceremony. (Nathan Rolls/UC Davis)

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Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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