Cedaredge High School and Middle School (CHS and CMS) combined to celebrate Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 10, with an assembly honoring military veterans and their families. The moving and inspirational program included patriotic music and speeches, heartfelt essays, and a stirring video -- all performed by students with assistance from area veterans and teachers and staff.
CHS student Holly Jenkins served as master of ceremonies. She opened the assembly by calling for the presentation of colors. Everyone got to their feet. Students and staff pressed their hands to their hearts and veterans and active duty military personnel saluted while a color guard from Grand Mesa Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9221 marched forward carrying the national and state flags. The flag bearers were Wayne Hamrick, a veteran from Eckert, who carried the Stars and Stripes and William Hendrix, a veteran from Cedaredge, who bore the Colorado emblem. Members of the Cedaredge High School assembled to sing the national anthem.
Jenkins then called for the assembled students to recognize the veterans in attendance and, when all veterans were standing, the gymnasium erupted into a lengthy standing ovation. Following this tribute, the CHS band performed the hymn "Amazing Grace" in honor of fallen servicemen and women.
Other talented students then took the stage as writers from CHS and CMS read their patriotic essays. Two veterans also addressed the assembly. Gary Tollefson, Junior Vice Commander of the Grand Mesa VFW Post 9221 and a resident of Austin, reminded the audience that Memorial Day and Veterans Day are two important but distinct holidays. Memorial Day honors the nation's war dead while Veterans' Day honors all Americans who have worn their country's uniform. "A long line of veterans," Tollefson said, "Stretches from the founding of our nation to today. And all signed a check to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their lives."
When retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ken Gates was introduced, the students gave the keynote speaker a rousing welcome. He was, after all, a familiar face, having served as a CMS social studies teacher long enough to be known by nearly every middle school and high school student in attendance. In fact, this year's high school seniors were among his first middle school pupils.
Gates began by saying it was good to be a veteran at a time in history when military service is appreciated. And he attempted to answer a question his audience might have which is: 'How can I show my thanks to veterans today?' His answer may have surprised his listeners. His message was that the best way to thank a veteran is to "live a life of purpose; which is to live a life of service; which is to know the significance of relationships."
By their service veterans create and protect an environment in which Americans, including young Americans, can achieve purpose, service, and significant relationships. Military men and women are mission-driven, purpose-driven, and collaborative. He gave examples of how high school and middle school students can aspire to these virtues and challenged his listeners to "Know your next step. Discover your purpose and go pursue it."
To young people such things may seem impossible and unobtainable. Gates reminded his audience of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address in which the new president challenged Americans to 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.' That's a big idea he agreed so he tried to 'whittle it down' for his listeners: "Ask not what your town, your school, your friends, your family can do for you" but what you can do to improve these relationships.
He concluded with examples from his military experience of the value of purpose, service, and collaborative work. And he ended with a tribute to all veterans declaring that veterans gave up their individual rights and were willing to give up their lives to maintain a country that enables everyone else to exercise their rights.
The patriotic assembly closed with the recognition of high school students who have chosen to join the military, the retirement of flags, and the dedication of a new American flag which was raised outside at the high school's flag pole by VFW members. The entire student bodies of CHS and CMS witnessed the ceremony and saluted the flag as CHS student, Mariah Simler, played 'To the Colors' on her solo trumpet.
The assembly is held every year. Over 500 students took part and 40 veterans attended. One of the most touching moments in the ceremony occurred when three CHS students stood up to acknowledge that they had decided to join the military after high school graduation. Their fellow students gave the trio a sustained round of applause. It was a fitting ovation and perhaps a sobering reminder that a growing number of Americans owe the exercise of their valued freedoms to a few dedicated volunteers who are willing to serve and defend their country.