Just weeks before the anniversary of D-Day each year, Darden students travel to Normandy, France, in mid-May for the Darden Worldwide Course “Leadership Lessons from the Normandy Invasion.”

As world leaders descend upon the beaches of Normandy today for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and to honor the sacrifices made that day, it’s clear that the power of that history-altering moment still resonates across generations — including as part of the Darden education experience. At the end of his First Year at Darden, recent graduate Miguel Gomez Ramirez (MBA ’19) shared his feelings about visiting the famous beach stormed by Allied troops in World War II:

The trip succeeded in delivering many leadership takeaways. In true Darden style, many of the takeaways were not specific conclusions but rather an understanding of the challenges faced by leadership. I still think about the commander who ordered his men to conduct a frontal assault on a long, narrow bridge occupied by the enemy: while he knew that such assault would cost the lives of many men, he also knew that the bridge was a critical asset for the continuation of the operation. There were no middle-ground alternatives, he had to make a tough call. How would you have felt as a soldier in the assaulting company? What would you have said if you were the commander in charge of the men whom you would probably not see the next morning?

UVA Today wrote about the 24 Darden students who attended the course, which has been a mainstay of the School’s global academic offerings for years, in 2016. Darden lecturer Bill Utt (MBA ’84), who led the course, described the impact of visiting the location on the learning for students.

“Seeing the actual site and what those soldiers faced as they came up from the water onto Omaha Beach, where some of the machine gun nests are still in place today, it really gives you a humbled sense of the courage, bravery and fortitude of those soldiers,” said Bill Utt (MBA ’84), a Darden adjunct lecturer. “It is so important for our students to understand what our military achieved, and the size and scope of the operation.”

The course often has particular resonance for Darden students due to the high percentage of fellow classmates who came to the School following military service. The student-run Darden Military Association serves as a resource to help students leverage former and current military experiences to enhance career opportunities in the private sector. When veterans attend the Normandy course, they often provide invaluable perspectives for non-veteran classmates.

Some of the students were veterans of operations in Iraq or Afghanistan and could draw parallels with their own military experience.

“Hearing from my classmates who had served was so valuable. Their perspective was not something that I could have recreated on my own,” second-year student Ellen Regan said. “The trip made me never want to go to a historical site without an expert, because having that perspective created a much richer experience.”