Despite the chilly early morning air, blue skies provided an uplifting backdrop for a recent American flag-raising and veteran-honoring ceremony at Newark High School.
Lincoln School second-graders and Perkins School first-graders joined NHS students for the outdoor ceremony near the flagpoles.
The ceremony was the first in a series of social, emotional and learning forum events centered around helping students to honor the service of U.S. veterans, and encourage them to serve and give back to others in various ways.
Principal Tom Roote welcomed the crowd of more than 800.
“Your presence here today will make us all better than we already are,’’ he said before asking high school students to connect with the primary school children with a round of applause.
Roote suggested that NHS students strike up a conversation with one of the young visitors by asking them what makes them feel like patriotism is alive and well or what the American flag means to them. After explaining why the ceremony was being held and the synergistic value of older and younger students participating, Roote turned the microphone over to Ryan Wagner, NHS assistant principal, to share history about honoring veterans.
“The idea of honoring veterans is not unique to our country,” Wagner said. “In fact, similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor. These memorial gestures all took place on Nov. 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918 — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The day became known as Armistice Day. It officially received its name in America in 1926 through a congressional resolution, and became a national holiday 12 years later.
“If the idealistic hope had been realized that WWI was ‘the war to end all wars,’ Nov. 11 might still be called Armistice Day, but only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. Over 16.5 million Americans took part — 407,000 of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle. Armistice Day changed to honor all veterans. The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized National Veterans Day, which included a parade and other festivities. The event was held on Nov. 11, then designated Armistice Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming Nov. 11 as Veterans Day. Weeks received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan in November 1982. Weeks’ local parade and ceremonies are now an annual event celebrated nationwide. Like me, many of you probably have a connection to a veteran or someone currently serving. Please take the opportunity today to think about and appreciate their service.”
Junior members of Newark-Arcadia Emergency Medical Services, who served as a honor guard during the ceremony, raised a new American flag to replace the older, worn one. Adviser Shawn Flanagan, director of junior membership for Newark EMS and NHS biomedical sciences teacher, provided narration about flag ceremony protocol.
“The folding of the flag represents the principles on which our country was originally founded,” Flanagan said. “The colors of the vertical stripes are white, which signifies purity and innocence, and red, for hardiness and valor. The portion of the flag denoting honor is the field of blue containing the stars representing the states our veterans served in uniform.
“During this ceremony, it takes 13 folds to properly care for the flag. When finished, the flag will form a triangular shape with only the blue field of stars showing. The 13 folds represent the coming together of the original 13 colonies into a new, great nation.
“In the armed forces of the U.S. at the end of the day, the flag is lowered, folded into its triangle form and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning, the flag is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille starting the day, it is raised as a symbol of the perseverance of our nation. After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of an angled hat, reminding us of the soldiers who served under Gen. George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Capt. John Paul Jones. They have been followed by their comrades and shipmates in the armed forces of the U.S., preserving for us the rights, privileges and freedoms we enjoy today.”
The older flag was presented to Tim Scoon, a maintenance worker for Newark Central School District and U.S. Navy veteran.
“This is a small token of our gratitude for his service to our nation,” Flanagan said.
Scoon expressed words of appreciation to Roote.
“Words cannot express my gratitude for what administrators, faculty, staff and students did today,” Scoon said. “The program that was presented today, as said, was beyond words, and the thanks that I received afterward were too numerous to count. I will remember this day as the highlight of my career here at Newark CSD.”
Attendees recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and sang a patriotic song about America directed by Mary Lou Bonnell, Lincoln School general music teacher who also provides K-12 music therapy. Roote then closed the outdoor ceremony.
“As we finish our time together, I want to remind you that today is a day to honor those who have served and now serve in uniform, as well as those who died in service to this great country,” Roote said. “Thomas Paine said, ‘Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.’ Roughly only 1 percent of our population serves in the military. And as we consider the impact those individuals have had on the world, defending freedom and protecting democracy, Winston Churchill once said, ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’ Since so few of us here today have served in the military and experienced the fatigue of waging war in order to bring about peace, I would ask you to work to thank one of our veterans when you see them for setting the example that inspires us to serve in ways outside of the military. For there are many ways that we can serve our great nation that includes acts other than military service. The idea of shared service can join us together like no other bond. The camaraderie we can share by serving others can help define us.”
During the assembly that followed in the NHS Auditorium, students were surprised that many raised their hands after being asked by Roote if they were related to a veteran or knew one.
Roote prompted students to consider the need for civil discourse among individuals with opposing viewpoints to not only listen to, but respect each other’s right to disagree by using a real-life illustration involving San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick and former Seattle Seahawks and Green Beret Nate Boyer that Bryant Gumbel shared on an HBO sports talk show.
“There are always going to be people who don’t appreciate what Kap is doing, and there are always going to be people who don’t appreciate Boyer reaching out to him,” Gumbel said. “The bottom line is that discussion, in a positive and peaceful fashion, is always better than screaming angrily about a subject matter. Boyer and Kap might not see eye to eye, but bridging the gap by even speaking about the issues is a pretty good start.”
Seven Newark Drama Club members read excerpts from “War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars,” edited by Andrew Carroll.
“I tried to tie the students’ readings into the SELF ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ that are at the core of the forum,” said Emily Howard, NHS Drama Club adviser. “The fifth tenant, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood,’ stood out to me as a worthy match for a Veterans Day message. I took excerpts from ‘War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars,’ and put together the students’ presentation that featured letters from WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Bosnian War. Letters spanned years 1918 through 1996.”
Participating students included Isabella Bailey, reader; Abigail Belliveau, lights; Madison Chandler, PowerPoint; Jaidyn Fontanez-Orwen, reader; Joseph Malach, sound; Anisha Stallworth, reader; and Medina VanDuyne, reader.
Wagner introduced Bill Doyle, of Palmyra, who founded The Green Angels in 2008 with his wife, Marya. The nonprofit organization is operated by hundreds of volunteers and one part-time associate.
An excerpt from its website explains its work — “The Green Angels began as a simple concept to provide brightness for families overwhelmed with life’s challenges, which often leave children without gifts for the holidays. We were inspired by the many seasonal programs which collect new toys for children. Our philosophy was that even more people want to give back to their communities, yet they are looking for cost effective ways to do so. We believed there were many families, just like ours, who had closets full of perfectly good toys, books, games and puzzles of which their kids had outgrown. Eager to launch our plan, we began gathering toys from our own basement, while sharing the idea with friends and family. Our house quickly filled with donations, and in December 2008 we held our first annual Free-Cycle program designed for local families in need of gifts for their children. Since then, this holiday program alone has grown to serving 850-plus people in a single day.
“The Free-Cycle program has evolved into referral program throughout the year. The Green Angels receive referrals on a daily basis from organizations like the Wayne Behavioral Health Network, Wayne County Public Health, Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, Victim Resource Center, Wayne County Rural Health Network and Wayne County school districts. We respond quickly with toys, books, supplies, food, clothes and infant items in an effort to provide a brighter future, at no cost to the family. Altogether we now serve well over 1,000 children per year through the Free-Cycle program and our daily deliveries to local families.”
Sharing examples of the great needs that exist in the area, Doyle said it would be tough to top the messages he’s heard about veterans. He said people looking for ways to give back won’t all be soldiers, but can become involved in various types of community service.
“I’d like you to consider ways you can make life a little bit better for somebody else,’’ Doyle told students. “There are people all around you who are going through something you don’t know about. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
He shared how Joe Cavallaro, a 2013 NHS graduate, reached out to him in 2012 when he was working on a Eagle Scout project.
“He wanted to learn how to give back,” Doyle said. “He hosted a toy drive in several locations in Newark that brought in countless truckloads of used toys. Everyone in here has a kind heart. Time is the most valuable thing you can give. Find something near and dear to your heart, and find a way to give back to others.”
Wagner shared how he was pleased the night before when his 3-year-old daughter, Nora, after learning from her grandmother about a little girl in need of toys, offered to give the child her Elsa doll, patterned after the character from the Disney movie “Frozen,” and another ballerina doll.