Salute the Troops

Mike Lawson • Archives • May 13, 2009

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Whether at a parade, a formal ceremony, or a concert, it is likely that at one time or another you will have a group perform at an event to honor the men and women of the Armed Forces. In fact, in many communities, the school music program is the only organization that can provide this very special service. Throughout the last 16 years, our music students have participated in many such events. Each time, our students have come away with a deeper appreciation of their opportunities and freedoms, and a better understanding of what it means to sacrifice for your country.

Unfortunately, the crowds at these gatherings are often sparse and devoid of many young people. Perhaps a reason for this poor attendance might be reflected in a recent Gallup Poll, which revealed that only 28 percent of Americans knew the original intent of Memorial Day! Another reason for poor attendance could simply be that everyone’s lives are busier these days and attending these ceremonial activities isn’t high on the list of priorities.

With this in mind, it becomes apparent that encouraging attendance of a Veteran’s Day Parade on a cold November morning or a Memorial ceremony on a day off of school or work may not be the best way to assemble a large number people who wish to show their appreciation.

Three years ago, in a small effort to pay tribute to those who served, we began playing a medley of Armed Forces songs as part of the prelude concert at our school’s graduation ceremony. A brief statement outlining the history of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday was read prior to the performance. We then asked all veterans, active duty, reservists, and enlistees to stand as the song from their branch of the armed forces was played. At the conclusion of the medley, the audience stood and gave them a rousing and heartfelt ovation!

With such a great response, the school administration asked that the medley be moved to the main part of the graduation ceremony for the following year. In addition, our principal contacted all the Armed Forces recruiting stations serving our school district and requested that a representative from each military branch be part of this new tradition. They all showed up and marched in wearing their full dress uniforms and carrying their service branch flag. It was an amazing display of pageantry, community pride, patriotism, and gratitude.

Perhaps dedicating those five minutes in a graduation ceremony can be our finest, longest lasting gifts as educators. What better way to spontaneously teach everyone the significance of Memorial Day? What better lesson to impart to our graduates at the last teachable moment? What’s it worth to see your students look into the eyes of our active duty, reservists, and veterans to see how special this recognition and appreciation is to them?

As music educators, we always talk about how important it is to make a difference in one person’s life. How true! But how often do we get a chance to make a difference for so many? This simple gesture which can only be provided by a music group, will unite your largest community audience of the year, your administration, and new graduates in a way that will bring special meaning to your school’s ceremony and extraordinary, well deserved recognition to the Armed Forces, your students, and to you!

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