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Few things exercise the Ricochetti more than a spirited discussion of the woeful state of public education in the United States today, unless it’s despairing angst (is there any other kind?) over the direction of the country in general, the state of mind of its youth, or the general lack of gratitude for anyone or anything shown by anybody under the age of [pick a target demographic, probably based on your own state of middling-to-advanced geezerhood]. Sometimes, it seems that there’s nothing we like better than a good, and dreary, moan about the state of things.
So, just to be contrary, and with the recognition that, perhaps I’m a lone voice crying in the wilderness (wouldn’t be the first time, and probably not the last), or that, perhaps, my family has been lucky to have tapped into the one-and-only decent public school system in the country (unlikely that, I can’t help thinking), I’d like to shower today’s quote of the day on a little institution in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania: “Thank you,” Charles W. Longer Elementary School (the school appears to have been named after a local educator who served for many years as the superintendent of the district. Thank you, Charles W. Longer, himself.)
Our most recent occasion for showing appreciation occurred yesterday when Mr. She and I made the trek of about 130 miles Northeast from Chez She to Hollidaysburg (home of the Slinky), the county seat of Blair County, PA. The first thing I was grateful for when I got there, was that it wasn’t 38 degrees, blustery, and pouring with rain, inside the auditorium. Thank you. One of the worst drives of my life. Ever. But totally worth it, although by the time we got inside, the two of us were shivering and resembled nothing so much as two drowned rats. (The drive home was worse, though. Over three hours.)
The occasion for our (minuscule) sacrifice this time was the annual “Veterans Day” program, in which our granddaughter is an enthusiastic and regular participant.
This school is serious about connecting its kids with family and community in ways that I think the Ricochetti would appreciate. And the Veterans Day program is no exception. It’s not a flash-in-the-pan. It’s not a five-minute cursory salute. It’s not just for kids who have veterans in their families, it’s about the veterans, not the families. Or the kids. All the kids work for weeks on their parts in the program. They research. They study history. They write, and read, their reports for the attendees. They visit veterans and make cards and care packages for the elderly in homes. They collect veteran’s stories. (This year, one of the classes suffered the indignity of MRE rations for lunch, just to see what the soldiers have to eat. The cafeteria staff participated in that one.) They stick push-pins in a map of the world, showing where their family members and friends who are veterans came from, and where they served. And, every year, on the Friday closest to Veterans Day, they say, “thank you.”
The first thing we noticed upon entering the auditorium (other than that it wasn’t sleeting in there), were the multitudinous decorations. Hundreds of little posters, some put together into a big “quilt” on the stage, underneath the “American Eagle” carrying a flag in its mouth which had been crafted by one of the staff. Hundreds of cards, decorations, banners, and hangings. Most of the kids decked out in red, white, and blue.
This year’s program was exceptional and lasted about an hour. The Student Council presented the colors. The assembly sang the national anthem, and those attending said the pledge of allegiance. The tiniest kindergartners, cute little kids with stars-and-stripes heart-shaped headbands (girls), or little badges (boys) sang a couple of songs. And then the first through sixth graders began with their reports.
We learned about veterans–about what it means to be a veteran. About the origins of Veterans Day itself. A bit about history, and the wars that the United States has fought in. About the sacrifices veterans make, and why we should say “thank you,” to our veterans every chance we get. And we learned that we should be proud of those in our community who make that sacrifice for us, and that we should never stop saying “thank you,” when they come home and as they live their lives among us.
There was much applause, as the children read their reports, and even, I think, a few tears. Then, all veterans in the audience were asked to stand so that we could appreciate them, and children presented paper poppies to all those standing. Children who had veterans in their family who were attending the program presented each of them with a tiny American flag. Our granddaughter was proud. She had two veterans, both grandfathers, attending the program yesterday.
The school chorus sang a “thank you” song, the colors were retired, and the commemoration and celebration ended. It was lovely, heartfelt and genuine. It wasn’t over-the-top, and there wasn’t a false note struck, anywhere. I saw no sour, or frowning, faces. I’m sure it didn’t cost a lot of money to “produce.”
And what I took away from it is what I take away from it every year: America (and maybe, even, Western Civilization), lives. It’s right in front of me. It’s here for the taking.
All I have to do is grab it, hold onto it for dear life, not let go, and be grateful I was born where I was, when I was, and for where I am now. Is it perfect? No. But, consider the alternatives. All of them.
Thank you, Charles W. Longer Elementary School, for once again restoring my faith in the future, and for the thought that we just might make it after all.
And, once again, thank you, all veterans. Without you, that thought wouldn’t even be possible.
P.S: And Happy Birthday, and a special “thank you” to Mr. She’s branch of the service.