Looking Back and Looking Forward
by Catie Wise on Friday, December 5th, 2014
Since 1938, when honoring those who have fought for our country became a national holiday, Veterans Day has been celebrated on November 11th all over the country in unique and diverse ways. At Milton Academy, our community honors veterans by gathering at the flagpole on Chapel Hill Drive on the 11th at 11:00 a.m. The ceremony consists of lowering the flag to half-mast in a moment of reverent silence, while the familiar notes of “Taps” are played on the trumpet. To end the ceremony, the flag is raised to the top of the pole, and students and faculty members walk in silence to their next period.
The ceremony itself holds a great degree of historical and communal richness and relevance. Members of our community have different connections to veterans, whether they personally know teachers or family members who have served or they simply respect men and women who have sacrificed for our country. Mr. Ball, Upper School Principal, comments that the flagpole ceremony “brings the community together, and it connects generations of ‘Miltonians’. It also helps us join together and recognize the gifts we have been given by people who have served and to honor the sacrifices that have been made by those same people.” He continued, “There’s a greater power in the act of honoring and giving recognition when we do it together. We don’t just connect to Miltonians but we connect to millions of people around the world who are engaging in the same tradition at the same time.”
Mr. Skinner’s uncle, Sherrod E. Skinner, Jr., received the Medal of Honor in 1953 for his honorable actions while fighting in the Korean War.
His familial connection to the armed forces results in his deeper—or at least different—attitude towards the ceremony, compared to many of those standing with him. Mr. Skinner says, “I can’t deny that I think about my uncle and my dad, who also served. My grandfather was in one of the first submarine units in the Navy.” Mr. Skinner continues, “The importance of the ceremony is in [its] simplicity, and to change the actual tradition would be to change its amount of impact.”
One of the few veterans at Milton is Mr. McKenna, who spoke to the Upper School at Wednesday assembly on Wednesday, November 5. Like Mr. Skinner, Mr. McKenna’s experience with the flagpole ceremony is unique. He says, “The first time I experienced the flagpole ceremony, it was different for me compared to…other people. I felt a stronger connection to the meaning of Veterans Day and spent the time thinking of people I closely knew who served.” Mr. McKenna says, “We need the flagpole ceremony to remind young people that the people who went before us made sacrifices. Whether they were away from their family or they didn’t come home, they still give up many other opportunities that they have. The American flag always symbolizes freedom, and there are flagpoles everywhere, but people don’t give a second thought to them. The tradition on one day for everyone to go out and remember is very powerful.”
For some Milton studentss, the flagpole ceremony might not be quite as significant in their lives, yet other communities also feel compelled to express gratitude for those who sacrificed their lives for their country. In other schools, Veterans Day is generally a school-free day during which students and teachers pay their respects on their own time. Many people at Milton believe that the school should have the academic day off as well; Teddy Beaudoin (III) comments, “A lot us have family members who fought in a war, so, by actually getting to talk to them during the day, it becomes more powerful and has more meaning.”
Even though some look for a different kind of celebration of Veterans Day, many students and faculty also believe that the current ceremony holds a great deal of understated meaning. To some teachers, the ceremony is very special because it is one of the longest standing traditions at Milton Academy. Alumni Ms. Pulit (’07) and Mrs. Greenup (‘75) remember their own experiences honoring veterans while attending Milton; Ms. Pulit says, “I remember every Veterans Day it rained, so we would all be standing in the rain. The dreariness made it much more emotional and resonant, and the 15 minutes just seemed sacred and special, especially with the whole school in silence.”
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