As a French teacher in the Baldwinsville Central School District since 1988, I have been graced with countless moments when my students have filled me with pride. Yet, as I recall my almost 400 students who have travelled to the American Cemetery along Omaha Beach placing over 5,000 messages of gratitude from the Baldwinsville community attached to American flags at the foot of the soldiers’ graves, I am overwhelmed. I only wish it were more.
In 2011, the commissioner of the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur Mer, Normandy told me that we should have informed him that the students from Baldwinsville were coming with over 1,200 messages so that he could have been welcomed them properly. So just before our arrival last April, I did just that.
True to his word, he was there to greet the 27 C.W. Baker High School students who arrived there during their 10-day tour of France. The students gathered in front of the bronze statue of the Spirit of American Youth, beneath the inscription: This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed by the ideals, the valor and the sacrifices of our fellow countrymen. They faced the reflecting pool, the two American flags flapping in the perpetual wind of the Normandy coast, the 9,387 graves, and began their ceremony; dedicating it to Marine Corporal Kyle Schneider, who graduated from Baker in 2006 and who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011. After the pledge of allegiance, several of the students began the ceremony with their moving rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The entire group then individually recited from memory a portion of the Nobel Prize acceptance speech delivered by President Obama in 2009, concluding in unison:
We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world, and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.