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Some words are taught at a very young age.
Take for instance, freedom: f-r-e-e-d-o-m, freedom, one can imagine a second-grade classroom echoing with the word.
Definition: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
A word, a spelling, a definition. The implications of the word, the history of the word, the sacredness it has had and lost and regained: a person must dig for, listen for the meaning and study to find it. After it’s found, the person can think on freedom and the contexts in which the word has gained its meaning.
In the weeks leading up to Veterans Day, this is part of what Scott White’s eighth-grade U.S. History class has been doing.
“What does freedom mean to you?” White asked his last period class. “Remember the freedom quotes you’ve been working on.”
Each year, as decoration for the breakfast, the eighth-graders write down what freedom means to them, decorate the borders and hang them on one of the comunity center’s walls.
On Monday, Nov. 12, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Ross Aragon Community Center, Scott White’s eighth-graders will begin serving the 13th annual Breakfast for Veterans, free to all who have served the country, from those who fought in World War II to those who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
At the breakfast, people can peruse the young generation’s view of freedom. As poet E. E. Cummings wrote, “freedom is a breakfast food.” This line, and the entire poem, as much as the word “freedom,” have much for one to ponder.
White explained that, during the first nine weeks of school, he teaches the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Each eighth-grader in his class must memorize the Bill of Rights. Ending this nine weeks of study is preparation for the annual Veterans Day breakfast. To understand what the veterans have done for us, White believes his students must contemplate the meaning of freedom.
“Freedom lets us make our own choices instead of others making them for us,” eighth-grader Madison Greenly said.
“I think of freedom as the right to run free without being worried,” Meghan Ellis said.
“What freedom means to me,” student Hayley Mitchell eagerly began, “It’s freedom of religion, which is the value of my life, it’s my background, what I’m about, and the freedom of speech. Think of everyone who stood up for what they believed and changed things by what they said, so I can say what I believe.”
“It’s the right to be free,” Matthew Coffelt said. When asked what he meant by free, Coffelt responded, quite honestly, “I don’t know.” A young philosopher in the making.
“That’s okay. You don’t have to know right now,” White said.
What was clear to the eighth-grade class was that freedom, this freedom that they were free to ponder, did not come free. It was the veterans who fought in wars and served in military service who ensured this freedom.
To thank them, and to learn from them, the eighth-graders are putting on a huge Veterans Day breakfast.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for the next generation to realize what the veterans did for them by listening to their stories,” eighth-grader Carson Hentchel said.
“I’m excited,” McKenna Moore said, beaming, and the rest of the class echoed this sentiment.
At the breakfast, White said the junior high band will play as will different participants in the high school’s Americana Project.
White also said this will be the first time the breakfast will be on a Monday. Sunday, Nov. 11 (the official date of Veterans Day), White invites everyone who wants to volunteer to come to the community center at 3 p.m. to help set up and decorate.
“This is a community celebration organized by the eighth grade,” White said.
Prior to volunteering Sunday at the community center, Pagosans can attend a flag-raising ceremony at the American Legion hall on Hermosa Street, next to Town Park. The brief Veterans Day ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m.