My dad won’t be pleased that I’m writing about him, but as he gave the Veterans Day Speech at the school where I am an English teacher and his grandchildren are students, he doesn’t have much of a choice. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Lin-Wood School community does Veterans Day proud. Being the guest speaker, though, is no easy task given the wide variety of ages in our school gym, from the littlest kindergardener to the eldest Veteran present and most every demographic in between. Dad was very nervous although you wouldn’t have known it to watch him work the room of other Veterans and family members milling around beforehand.
I’ve always loved our Veterans Day service at school, and I know the word “service” has a religious connotation to it. However, the reverence and sincerity our school children demonstrate as the Veterans are escorted in, or as readings are shared, songs are sung by the chorus and/or performed by the band, is profoundly poignant. Even the slow motion version of little ones saying the Pledge of Allegiance forces all others to slow each syllable down thereby creating a heavier understanding of the importance of each phrase.
Our math teacher, the legendary Lin-Wood educator retiring this spring, Rick Baker, and history teacher–equally as popular just not with the longevity yet, Shaun Hagan, recently took the opportunity to speak with each and every high school advisory regarding the historical perspective of the Pledge and what challenges it has undergone in its lifetime.
In looking at the blog I wrote a year ago in honor of Veterans Day, I echoed things like, “This has been a tough fall for our country” and the same can be said this year—and probably since the beginning of time. However, in a world that generally feels unsafe any time one turns on the news, listening to my dad up there at the podium connecting with teenagers in ways I could never have imagined brought tears on more than one occasion. He shared with them how growing up in North Philadelphia had not been easy on him, and he made a lot of mistakes based on his need to survive socially. This impacted our kids’. He shared with them how much the military changed his life–even gave him life in many ways– for the better. He joked about not wanting to sound like a recruiter, but those words impacted our kids. I watched as the other Veterans in the audience nodded their heads in understanding. He made connections to the Cuban Missile Crisis and how that was as close to a nuclear war as we had come to at that point in history. Man, did that give our kids a lot to think about given our current status at odds with North Korea.
Not only that, but he brought follow-up essays and articles for the kids to read with their teachers, wherever we would think it appropriate. He showed our students that you can have a rocky start and have to deal with a whole lot of crap as a teenager, but then you have this choice and what you do with that choice after graduating from high school can be the difference that gives you a life worth living and not just surviving. My dad didn’t talk to us like that as kids growing up, or maybe he tried and we weren’t interested because we were so caught up in being self absorbed teenagers. But I heard you, Dad, and so did about 300 other young people in different stages of development. We all took away different bits from your speech, but your words impacted many including your own grandchildren, which is super cool when you think about it.
In debriefing the speech afterwards in class, many found it unreal that my dad had been in as much trouble with the law as a teenager as his words suggested. “But he turned out to be such a good person– clearly he was a good dad,” one students observed.
Yes, Pops, you are an awesome dad and grandfather— even if we didn’t always appreciate that when we were growing up. We don’t always see eye to eye on any number of different issues, but you gave our community a lot to think about during our Veterans Day assembly and we are forever grateful for your service. Thank you to men and women everywhere who have served our country in countless ways, including my dad, Tony Ehrman, and father in law, Phil Krill, and every other member of each branch of our military and their families.