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Students connect with veterans at ceremonies, tributes

At Thornapple Kellogg High School’s 13th Annual Veterans Day Program, students recognized local veterans through poems, stories and music

Multi-districts — Local students took the time to connect directly with those who have served the nation for Veterans Day, while honoring their history, lives and contributions.

At East Grand Rapids High School, during a solemn assembly honoring local veterans, past and present students discussed careers in the military, the benefits of service and more during a visit from Col. Andy Graham. 

At Thornapple Kellogg High School, AP U.S. History students helped organize the 13th annual Community Veterans Day Program, guided by teacher George Dudik. While doing so, they met and shook the hands of several veterans from their community.

East Grand Rapids

Col. Andy Graham, an East Grand Rapids graduate, addresses high-school students during the observation of Veterans Day

Col. Andy Graham graduated from East Grand Rapids High School in 1993, serving most of his career in special operations units. He has traveled the world, seeing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

While at his alma mater, he talked about the paths to, and benefits of, careers in the military. 

Senior Ed Prentice told Graham he’d like to work in military law or logistics, noting that a previous Veterans Day event at the school helped jumpstart his passion.

“Part of the interest,” Ed said, “stems from our guest speaker last year, from the same assembly, who’s a Navy judge.”

Ed said he’s getting more interested in the legal and political components of the armed forces thanks to EGR programs like the We the People, which exposes students to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and systems of government.

“We discuss questions of citizenship and how certain constitutional principles apply to the modern day,” Ed said, adding that case law is an area of particular interest for him.

Graham said there are plenty of opportunities for people like Ed.

Graham had the chance to connect with Ed and his fellow students thanks to a morning of solemn celebration and remembrance.

During the mid-morning Veterans Day event, about 900 students filed into the high school’s dimly lit auditorium to pay respects to the 22 East Grand Rapids High School graduates whose lives were lost in service to the nation.

Graham spoke to the student body, emphasizing the honor that comes from a life of military service. 

“That honor leads to a sense of pride,” Graham said, though he noted that there are challenges as well, like losing loved ones too soon. 

Ultimately, though, “that pride and honor really does lead to joy,” he said.

During the assembly, Principal Craig Weigel announced a donation to the East Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation from Armed Forces Thanksgiving, made in the name of founder Peter G. Ruppert, a former East Grand Rapids board member who recently passed away. 

The scholarship will be used to support graduating seniors pursuing some type of military education.

Thornapple Kellogg

During a school-wide assembly at Thornapple Kellogg, students read poems and shared stories about veterans in their lives to honor around 40 veterans in attendance. 

Sophomore Emma Reil spoke about how her grandfather papa served as a paratrooper in the army for many years.  

“If jumping out of a plane that is thousands of feet off the ground doesn’t scream bravery, I’m not sure what does,” she said. 

Emma continued: “Veterans Day is a reminder of the sacrifices our veterans have made leaving their families and homes to protect the freedoms we hold dear. It’s a day to repress our gratitude, not just through words, but through our actions.” 

Sophomore Makenzee Knight told the story of the MIA POW table, displayed in front of the podium, set for one, with various symbolic objects to honor prisoners of war and those who went missing in action. 

Teacher George Dudik read names of veterans present and which branch of the military they served and two veterans from the Middleville community spoke. 

“I’m a veteran but not a hero, there is a difference,” said U.S. Army Capt. Rich Jenkins who now serves as the American Legion Commander. “I am accepting the honor of honored veteran only on behalf of your fellow students and members of this school, Dane Carver and Nick Roush.” 

TK alumni Army Spc. Dane O. Carver and Cpl. Nicholas R. Roush died in 2005 serving in Iraq and 2009 serving in Afghanistan, respectively. 

“Veterans are the backbone of our country,” Principal Tony Petersen said. “Our freedom is built on their blood sweat and tears, so let us honor these brave men and women every day not just through our words but through our actions.”

Following the program, the students served lunch to the honored guests and their families.

Alexis Stark contributed to this story.

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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