Annual Community Veterans Day Ceremony
The Leyden High Schools are located at runway’s edge of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. They are truly a melting pot port of entry to the American Dream, with over 40 languages spoken in the homes of our families served. Annually, our Music Department students (band, choir, orchestra, and color guard) give a Community Veterans Day Ceremony performance. The ceremony incorporates nearly 300 students. Additionally, a number of Veterans representing the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Viet Now, plus our civic First Responder heroes (police officers and firefighters) are also actively involved in the ceremony. This involvement includes a procession of colors, reading orations over music beds, enacting ceremonies such as the Fire Fighters’ Bell Ringing Ceremony, the Battle Field Cross and POW/MIA Table presentations, etc., to appropriate patriotic music. This event is well attended each year and has become a staple of our community’s efforts to befittingly honor our Home Town Heroes for their service.
The “target” is EVERYONE. While this sounds paradoxical, it rings true because first-and-foremost, this project empowers our students to the dramatic and meaningful contributions and impact they can make when they utilize their time and talents for worthwhile causes. It also serves our Veterans and First Responders by publicly acknowledging their sacrifice for the greater good. Additionally, this ceremony shows many audience members who are very new to America what being “an American” is all about in terms of our hearing words and stories that embody our commitment to one another, the sacrifices necessary to preserve our freedom in a peaceful society, and the ongoing cost that freedom exacts.
Overview of planning and execution process for this project
We have created a community board of stakeholders which visions this annual project, meeting each fall and continuing ongoing communications via email and Google docs leading up to the event. This consists of the the music teachers, students, Leyden School Board President, American Legion Commander, VFW Commander, American Legion Ladies Auxiliary President, the Leyden Township Clerk, and representatives from the Leyden Township Fire Department and the Police Department. Together, we select appropriate narrations to be orated over music beds, create videos to enhance certain presentations, sequence the ceremony for a smooth logistic flow and meaningful story arc, and determine specific orators for each of the narratives. A link to the source document narratives is embedded at the end of the Veterans Day Ceremony Workbook. Additionally, static displays of military and police/fire vehicles are coordinated for outside of the auditorium for audience members to enjoy on their way in/out of the ceremony. Students utilize time both in and out of school for rehearsals on the band, choir, and orchestra pieces which will support the ceremony, and our color guard students rehearse their roles throughout the program.
Sponsors/charities/volunteers/ other groups involved in the project and the benefits to each.
Please see above for the stakeholders and respective roles they serve to ensure the project’s success. Because we are in a lower socio-economic status environment, the Annual Community Veterans Day Ceremony is free and open to the public. However, attendees have the opportunity to give a free will offering for the Wounded Warriors Foundation as they leave the facility. Over the years, we have raised thousands of dollars for this cause.
This project has positively impacted our program, district, and community in a number of ways, including:
- has empowered our students to the meaningful contributions and impact they can make
- has heightened their civic awareness
- has brought together many people through shared beliefs and aspirations for what our community
- has brought recognition and honor to our Home Town Hero Veterans and First Responders
- has introduced many community members to our Leyden Music Department who would have never otherwise been aware of the great things our kids are striving to do
Specific Budget Breakdown
While technically, this is a zero-budget enterprise, the caveats are as follows: We are able to utilize our existing band, choir, and orchestra library literature for the ceremony. Our performing students already have uniforms for their respective role in the band, choir, orchestra, or color guard, and we utilize a large American flag and Armed Service flags purchased for use by our marching band (as our marching band honors a Home Town Hero from the community just prior to the Star Spangled Banner for each home football game performance). Additionally, Leyden Township Village Office is kind enough to cover the costs of printing publicity posters, programs, and includes publicity for the event in the water bill each October.
New or recurring project?Recurring
How did you update/change this project from its previous occurrence?
As the project became “annual,” the updates were very intuitive and organic. We wanted to keep components which were successful and impactful. We wanted to maintain good involvement and relationships with key organizations. Likewise, we wanted to create opportunities for additional organizations to feel welcome and participate while still keeping the program length respectful of the audience members’ time so they want to return each year. Likewise, specific quality literature we wanted for the student to experience from year to year would drive our programming for each year’s ceremony.
Challenges/obstacles that were encountered
Buy in is generally not a problem because we already have earned a quality relationship with the key stakeholders. However, trying to convey the grandeur of the scope of participation and vision–and that we really can make this happen in a very reasonable time commitment with good planning–definitely took a leap of faith–thankfully, people were willing to give it a try. Likewise, we want to be sure to show respect and deference to the various other Veterans Day activities conducted by our local community organizations, rather than scheduling against them. For this reason, our ceremony is proximal, but prior to Veterans Day.
Measurement of the success/effectiveness of this project?
From the associated music student self-reflection assignment and senior student reflection, the Annual Veterans Day Ceremony is consistently listed among their most memorable and enjoyable music performances. The audience count for this event is among the highest we enjoy for any of our home campus performances throughout the year. The feedback from our own faculty (as we have also given student assembly version performances of the ceremony for our student body) has served to powerfully reinforce to our students never to underestimate their power to do great things through their musical endeavors (the link to the Leyden faculty feedback is embedded at the end of the Veterans Day Workbook doc).
Advice for someone looking to replicate this project in their own community?
This project is worthwhile. It is meaningful. It will empower your students and highlight them to an entire demographic within your community which would have otherwise never been aware of what you are doing. This project can be scaled to the age group, type of ensemble/s, amount of time and experience, and can be accomplished with minimal resources. Thank you for your time and consideration.