The hundreds of students in Glen Rock Middle School’s auditorium Monday morning might have been a bit boisterous any other day. First thing in the morning, teachers and school administrators might have had to fight for the attention of children released from class and packed together in the big room. But as the school observed Veteran’s Day—and honored vets from World War II up to Afghanistan—the crowd was quiet and the mood reverent.
Ridgewood native Lt. Col. Patrick Downes, a 1993 graduate and current professor of West Point, spoke to the children, among them two of his own. And while the ceremony honored the military service of himself and others, he stressed the importance of all forms of national and community service.
“There are many, many things you can choose to do with your life,” he told the gathered students, “but the things that are going to be rewarding to you are when you make a decision to do service to someone. Other people’s goals and other people’s objectives, and the things that other people need—make them what’s important to you. Don’t make your goals and your objectives the very most important thing. Make service important. Make helping other people important. And find the way that you want to do that.”
Speaking onstage with Glen Rock’s veterans, Downes aimed to make the example of those who had made the ultimate contribution to national service relevant to the gathered middle school students. “The greatest lessons that I’ve learned, I trace back to the ages that you guys are now.”
The day was about honoring veterans as well as learning from them, and students paid tribute to them not only with their attention but also with student speakers and poetry. “Our country does a great job of providing and saying thank you to the military,” Downes said, closing his speech. “We appreciate it.”