American Preparatory students pay tribute during Memorial Day assembly
Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by American Preparatory junior Merlin Blanchard, recited the Gettysburg Address amongst students reenacting the battle during American Preparatory Academy’s Memorial Day assembly. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
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Students and guests were silent as Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by American Preparatory junior Merlin Blanchard, recited the Gettysburg Address amongst students acting as fallen soldiers on the battlefield.
It was one of many moments where American Preparatory Academy (APA) students memorialized the holiday in honor of fallen soldiers.
“American Prep holds this commemoration assembly each year before Memorial Day, to help us all turn our thoughts and our hearts to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives that we may be free,” said AP Executive Director Carolyn Sharette at Draper I campus.
Each of the three American Preparatory Academy campuses holds a program, and Draper I’s began with first-graders singing “America the Beautiful” with soloists Cate Merrill, Aarna Salimath and Naomi Wortley.
Then came the reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg.
“During the Civil War, there was a terrible battle at a place called Gettysburg. There were 45,000 wounded, missing or died in this horrific battle. Four months after the battle at Gettysburg, President Lincoln dedicated the cemetery there,” Sharette said.
At this point, Blanchard recited the Gettysburg Address as sixth-grade students presented choreographed battle movements.
“It is such a short, powerful speech,” Blanchard said, who added it took him two weeks prepare it for the assembly. “The speech brought about changes in speeches and in our language. It’s an honor to be asked to be Abraham Lincoln as I have his beard, height and similar demeanor. He’s someone I deeply respect. He tried to do what was best for the country; he didn’t just let the South secede when he knew slavery was wrong.”
Sharette said that after the Civil War ended, there were strong feelings of loss as more than 620,000 people had died in the war.
“It was decided that we needed a national day of remembrance for all the soldiers who had given their lives. So, Memorial Day was proclaimed a national day of remembrance in 1868. The proclamation for the first Memorial Day reads: ‘The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country,’” she said.
Students then learned about World War I soldiers, who died in many European battles. A fallen soldier’s friend, John McCrae, visited France to see where soldiers had died when he saw wild poppies growing where soil had been dug up for the graves. The poppies inspired him to write a poem, called “In Flanders Fields,” Sharette said.
Sixth-graders then recited the poem and in response, second-graders said “America’s Answer.”
“At the end of World War 1, an American woman named Moina Michael read the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ and was inspired to make the red poppy a symbol of remembrance. This tradition has spread all across the world,” Shepherd said, adding that the poppies students and special guests wore were in honor of soldiers who died in their service.
American Preparatory students’ donations for the poppies were given to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9803 Commander Carl Moore who, along with Chaplain and Vice Commander Dan Baker, then presented the school with a plaque for the past four years of participating in the poppy program.
Moore said the students’ respect was appreciated.
“It means so much because after we came back from Vietnam, the country was so divided that we hid our uniforms and weren’t appreciated for our service,” he said. “We were away and knew the situation back home, but we didn’t realize how much stress our parents went through when the country was so unsettled.”
Then students learned “Taps,” which originated during the Civil War when a fallen soldier’s captain was denied a three-gun salute over his grave, so he played the four-note song. The idea was taken up by others and by 1891, it was adopted as a standard part of U.S. military funerals.
“Taps” was played on the trumpet by APA Draper II campus student Kristofer Cloward and afterward, fourth-graders performed a rendition of the song, with a solo by Areiha Carbonell. Speaking parts were by fourth-graders Hayden Callister, Arnav Karthikeyan, Mia Munoz, Ryan Rodriguez and Sofia Arriaga.
Students then were reminded of President Bill Clinton issuing a statement in 2000, asking the country “to pause and consider the true meaning” of Memorial Day with a moment of reflection at 3 p.m. local time.
Sharette said this is a way to honor the nearly two million men and women who have died in the line of duty since 1775.
“We can think about the soldiers who have died for our freedom. We can think about the gifts we have because of their service. Gifts like freedom, being with our families, and living in this great nation,” she said.
Third-graders then sang “Simple Gifts,” after which fifth-graders, with soloist Fabrizio Rodriguez, sang “Homeward Bound.”
At the end of the assembly, students learned how soldiers fold and present flags to family members of a fallen soldier before they filed by and gave their silent thanks to the VFW veterans.
“It’s an extraordinary assembly,” Baker said. “It’s a really moving tribute and we truly appreciated that we’re being thanked for our service.”