It’s not often these days that we stop to think about the origin and meaning of a particular national holiday. Too often, we view the holiday as another day off work, time away from other responsibilities, and perhaps even a brief vacation. While each of the holidays has names of honor: President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day, to name just a few – we live in busy and overscheduled times. Seemingly without time for true reflection, we instead spend the holidays driving from one place to another, fighting the usual holiday crowds, and then returning to work on Monday perhaps more tired and spent than on a normal weekend.
At Holy Spirit School, recognizing that appreciation for others and lifelong learning is a critical element of life for all of us – young or old – we made a concerted effort this year to pause for a moment and truly celebrate the holiday that is Veteran’s Day. Our goal was to help our students, faculty, and parents fully understand and acknowledge the what and why of celebrating the day. To that end, we transformed our normal daily assembly into a morning of recognition of Veteran’s Day and all that it means to us as American citizens.
The first hint that this day holds a special meaning for all of us was the Presentation of the Colors by our entire school Scouting contingent. From Daisies to Brownies, Cubs to Boy and Girl Scouts, they proceeded in quiet marching order to divide the assembled grades in two and form a pathway through the middle for the colors to follow. In solemn and respectful silence, broken only by the commands being given to the Guard, the Scouts saluted and the entire school watched as the colors marched up to the stage.
Following the crowd’s recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, our guest speaker, Commander Kevin Lavery, stepped up to the microphone. A Coast Guard veteran and current Holy Spirit School parent, he patiently took the time to explain the meaning of the word “veteran”, and that the history of today’s holiday originally meant to honor the sacrifices of the men who fought in World War I – the “war to end all wars.” For many of our students – especially those in the younger grades – this was perhaps the first time either perspective had been shared with them.
Commander Lavery went on to explain that one of our most important responsibilities as citizens and one of our kindest acts is to recognize the men and women who have served our country – not just through national holidays such as today’s, but also personally whenever the opportunity presents itself. To walk up to a veteran, to shake their hand, and most importantly, to simply say, “Thank you for your service,” are each meaningful beyond words to our living veterans. Whether they are proud of their time in the service of our country or still dealing with the wartime aspects of such service, all veterans appreciate the thanks of us as grateful individuals and a grateful nation. To accentuate his point, he asked the veterans in the audience to raise their hands and be recognized – a gesture that was met with extended and enthusiastic applause by all those present.
All of us at the assembly could not help but walk away from today’s ceremony with both a greater knowledge of the meaning of Veteran’s Day and a deeper appreciation of what it means to serve and to sacrifice for our country. As I lingered after the assembly, I could tell this by the dozens of students – and parents – in line around me waiting to greet the veterans who attended, shake their hands and honor them for their service.
Finally, the day was summed up best for me at the sight of a little third-grade girl finally at the front of the line reaching out and shaking the hand of an elderly veteran. As his large and frail hand encircled hers, she looked up and smiled, speaking barely above a whisper, and simply said, “Thank you for your service.” I’ll forever swear that through my own tears at the scene before me, that the grateful veteran was crying as well . . .