Swanton Local Schools paid tribute to area veterans on Wednesday with their annual Veterans Day program. Students from throughout the district came to the high school gymnasium to sing, read poems, and otherwise honor veterans.
Following the Presentation of Colors to start the program, the Swanton Middle School and High School bands performed “God Bless America.” Then Megan Chonko, master of ceremonies, welcomed the audience before Eric Slink led The Pledge of Allegiance. The jazz ensemble then sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Next, four second grade students from Crestwood Elementary School took to the podium. Laci Walborn, Carson Pawlowicz, Braedyn Hansen, and Kaidence Molina each read a Veterans Day Tribute.
Park Elementary School students Drew Smigelski and Sloane Geisel read Veterans Day poems.
Surrounding the poems were musical performances – the Crestwood student body sang “The Heart of America” and Park students sang “You Are Our Heroes.”
Middle school students Riley Bellner, Emma Operacz and Ashlyn Waddell then told the audience what the Pledge means to them.
Keynote Speaker Major Jeffrey Lawrence Johnson then took the stage. The 1986 Swanton High School graduate spoke to the audience about the importance of teamwork.
He said in the military, you need the ability to function as a team. “So very early on the lessons that I learned from the coaches and the teachers of this community about being a team member related to my life.”
Johnson has spent 17 years with the Air Force Office of Special Investigation. Prior to obtaining commission in the Air Force, he was enlisted in the Air Force from December 1988 to January 2001.
Major Johnson taught, developed, and wrote curriculum at the United State Air Force Academy, authored other lessons and has taught elsewhere. He has received numerous awards, including Meritorious Service, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement medal and Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation with Valor.
Johnson stressed the importance of community and also spoke of courage. Johnson said he and a linguist would talk to local residents in Iraq as they worked to develop intelligence in the hunt for the Husseins in Iraq. His dad’s advice to remember “who you are” stuck with him.
“You’re an individual. You’re strong, You’re courageous, but always be yourself. Don’t conform to what other people want you to be.
“Remember who you are,” said Johnson. “Because who you are first of all as individuals is Americans and you’re special. Second of all, you’re Swanton Bulldogs. And it may not seem like much to you now but as you go out in life and you grow, this place is going to mean something to you.”
The program concluded with a video presentation by Joe Nye’s Interactive Media class, the Armed Forces Salute, closing remarks by principal Jason Longbrake, and the Retiring of Colors.
Drew Stambaugh can be reached at 419-335-2010