At nearly 50 years old, Falmouth Academy hasn’t lived through as much history as some older schools I’ve been associated with over the years, a fact that is particularly apparent when we approach Veterans Day each year. In older institutions, you often find hallways of elegant wooden plaques etched with the names of graduates who lost their lives in Vietnam, Korea, World Wars II and I, and even, in some cases, the American Civil War!
The fact that Falmouth Academy hasn’t lost, to the best of our knowledge, a single graduate to armed conflict in no way diminishes the significance of this important holiday in our school’s calendar. In fact, about 2% of our alumni have gone on to serve in the US Armed Forces (all five branches) and six are still on active duty. We are proud of their service and of the service of the many family members of students past and present who have sacrificed on behalf of the country we love.
My father, a veteran, lays in rest at the Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, and my uncle was a member of the famous 10th Mountain Division during World War II. I guess someone heard he was quite the athlete and before you know it, they had taught him to ski; he spent the rest of the war in the Italian Alps. But I think I am most proud of my grandfather, who was one of those who emigrated from Germany in the early 1900s and just a few years later, found himself in an American trench staring back over at young men just like him, men who not long ago he had considered countrymen. His purple heart, I am certain, is among my mother’s most prized possessions.
I share these stories not because they are unique or even unusual but because they are all too common. Indeed, I suspect each of us has a veteran, probably many, whom we will in our own ways quietly honor come Thursday. I sometimes wonder if there is any better way of doing so than by graduating an “army” of well-educated students each year. Students who have learned the lessons history can teach. Students who have marinated in a values-oriented community. Students who have studied a variety of perspectives and cultures, within and beyond their own national borders. Students who have been given opportunities to lead. And students who have practiced solving seemingly unsolvable problems.
One of the many legacies of recently retired history teacher Don Swanbeck is our twelfth-grade history curriculum. Entitled World Cultures, the course is essentially a model State Department simulation. Acting in the role of “Assistant Secretaries of State," each student adopts the role of a Department of State official. They engage the cultural problems from each State Department region, track current global issues, research pressing trends within their assigned region, and consult news, academic journals, government and NGO reports, to inform their analysis.
These are the kinds of students I want to be seated around the table if we are to realize my deepest hope: that we never have to install plaques at Falmouth Academy in honor of future graduates lost in future armed conflicts. To do so, we must attend thoughtfully to the present, redoubling our efforts to graduate students who care...about learning, about each other, about their communities, about the planet, about the future.
But while we wait for these young people to come of age, I am sure you will join me in honoring our veterans for their service.