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Draper Journal

Honoring patriotism: Alta High students receive national award for Veterans Day assembly

May 09, 2024 01:18PM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High’s Principal Ken Rowley, student body audiovisual officer Jessica Cai, student body president Garrett Jessop and student body adviser Shaley Louder smile after receiving the national George Washington Honor Medal for the school’s Veterans Day assembly. (Photo courtesy of Stefanee Jessop)

In 1994, Alta High senior Tyler Perry told his principal, Linda Sandstrom, he wanted to organize a Veterans Day assembly.

“She was leery of me being able to pull off an assembly,” he remembered. 

With the help of former teacher and student body adviser Don Ward and the student government, Perry and Alta students held the assembly honoring Alta teachers who were veterans. Former two-time most valuable baseball player in the major leagues Dale Murphy shared his experience about playing ball in another country and “tied that back to the blessings we have as a result of freedoms we enjoy,” Perry said.

At that assembly, he sang, “God Bless the USA.”

Fast forward to November 2023. Perry returned to his alma mater where 200 flags stood waving around the campus. He performed the same song at the same assembly, which now involves more than 200 students participating, and students invite about 175 veterans to be honored.

“I was dumbfounded to learn it had become a main assembly that students are still doing until they invited me to come and participate,” he said. “That first assembly was impactful because afterward, students I didn’t know would stop me in the hall and thank me for putting it on. That was that really touched me and now to know that it still is impactful after all these years, it says so much.”

Perry said by organizing the assembly, he was fulfilling a commitment. He had received a scholarship from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge to attend a program the summer before his senior year. While there, he saw historical sites and attended a series of lectures about the founding principles of the country with others from across the country. 

In exchange, he and other scholarship recipients promised to hold a freedom-based program or assembly at their schools.

That commitment has become a traditional Alta assembly, and one that was recently recognized by the Freedoms Foundation. The school received the George Washington Honor Medal, a national recognition.

In its 75th year, Freedoms Foundations, which promotes civic education, has recognized more 57,000 citizens, schools, organizations and community leaders through its national awards. The criterion for honoring schools includes students’ community involvement with an emphasis on patriotism, individual character and responsible citizenship.

Current student body president Garrett Jessop received the honor on behalf of the school, supported by his current student body adviser, Shaley Louder, as well as Ward and principal Ken Rowley. Student body audiovisual officer Jessica Cai also was in attendance.

Jessop was escorted to the front of a banquet hall where he listened to the citation being read. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and the Utah Chapter of the Freedoms Foundation presented him the award, which now is displayed in the school’s main foyer.

“It was awesome,” he said. “At the assembly last fall, I told Tyler Perry how much we appreciated everything he’s done. It’s because of him starting the assembly and those who supported him, and others who carried it forward all these years, that we received this prestigious award.”

Even more so, Jessop appreciated the award gives honor to veterans.

“I was glad that it gives veterans recognition because they are heroes in our community. Some people don’t realize all the veterans we have around here and by this award and our assembly, we’re able to give them the honor and the recognition they deserve with their sacrifice and service,” he said.

Jessop said many area schools now follow Alta High in honoring veterans and thanking them for their service.

“Many veterans are humble; others appreciate receiving the honor. Regardless, they deserve our respect and gratitude,”
he said.

Louder said that Alta students invite the veterans and their families to a breakfast before the traditional assembly, which includes student performances, tributes and singing.

“The students gain an understanding about their rights and privileges, and we honor those who served with a moment of silence,” she said. “It’s really inspiring, and students realize their liberties aren’t defined by politics, but by the commitment and sacrifices of individuals, some who are about their same age when they started serving.”

Perry, who had other siblings also receive the same scholarship, said his grandfather and great-grandfather served in the U.S. Army. His father was the chairman of the national Freedoms Foundation.

Patriotism is in the blood of our family. The founding principles of this country are engraved in me,” he said. “Having that assembly back then really resonated with me and it still does—and now, it has with many more people.” λ