In what is fast becoming an intergenerational tradition that links high school students with veterans of the American armed forces, graduating seniors at Locust Valley High School participated in their fourth annual Flags for Freedom assembly on May 23.
In a stately 45-minute ceremony that featured speeches, presentations and choral music, graduating seniors were presented with American flags by local veterans organizations. The students were also presented with copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
“The servicemembers here today represent nearly 250 years protecting our nation,” district Superintendent Dr. Anna Hunderfund said. She thanked school board members and high school parent council members for their help in putting the event together.
She also noted the contribution of Organization Democracy, represented by Kaye Weninger at the assembly.
“The freedoms we enjoy in America are due to the sacrifices made by men and women of the military,” said Weninger. “These flags are meant to remind us all of the patriotic values that are inherent to being an American citizen.”
“We are here to honor our nation’s veterans and their dedication to duty, their integrity and the qualities which allowed them to serve a calling greater than themselves,” David Ethe, the high school’s social studies curriculum leader and the master of ceremonies at the assembly, told the crowd. “These are ordinary people who served in extraordinary times. We owe them a promise not to forget their courage, and to understand that peace requires vigilance.”
Music for the assembly was provided by the concert chorale, led by Allison Hungate-Wood. The group performed patriotic songs including “United We Stand” and “A Million Dreams.”
According to Weninger, the program was created to complement Memorial Day and to educate students at the high school about flag etiquette and history, and to remind them what it cost the nation’s fallen heroes to secure their freedoms.
On hand were service members from the Bayville and Locust Valley American legions, who personally folded all 189 flags that were presented to the school’s graduating seniors. The meaning and symbol of each fold was explained in detail to the assembly by seniors Leo D’Auria-Gupta, Bridget Bianco and Ella Paz, including the final shape of the flag, intended to represent a Revolutionary War- era cocked hat.
The seniors lined up with the American Legion members, and were given the hand-folded flags.
“I’ve never been part of anything quite like this,” said guest speaker Jay Erskin, a tactical operations officer and a UH60 and Blackhawk pilot with the U.S. Army. “I think it’s a grand gesture.”
“Giving something back is the biggest reward in life, and there are many ways to serve,” Erskin told the seniors. “Less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military. I gave up some of my youth to serve, but I came to realize that what I was doing as a soldier was something larger than myself. I ask you to cherish this flag. Keep it safe somewhere, remember it and let it remind you to help people you meet along the way.”