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I’m late writing my usual blog post commemorating Memorial Day due to a bevy of graduation activities for my middle son, Max Williams, who just finished second in his class at Battle Mountain High School and received his diploma at a gloriously unmasked and packed Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail on Saturday.
As the Salutatorian, Max did not deliver a salutatory speech, but his friend Miles Jarnot, the Valedictorian with whom Max is headed off to the University of Colorado College of Engineering in August, said it best in his speech, as quoted by the Vail Daily:
“But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how fitting it actually is,” Jarnot said of his initial doubts about the school’s 2021 class motto of “Could be worse”. “We’ve constantly heard from all around us how terrible this year must be, and how much we’re missing out on, but I haven’t actually heard this attitude from our classmates.”
Before I even heard that class motto, I was talking to Vail Mayor Dave Chapin recently and, as I’ve taken to doing with everyone in public service (especially educators, health care workers and policymakers during COVID), I thanked him profusely for all he and the Town of Vail have done to get us back to a place where we will have a somewhat “normal” summer and then hopefully an unrestricted ski season in November.
I told him how glad I was that our son would be able to have a full-on graduation ceremony, unlike the COVID class of 2020, which really missed out on so much. True, Max was “only” able to go to class two days a week, but at least he had that. Many school districts were remote-only.
Dave told me a conversation he was having recently with a friend who grew up in the 70s about this very topic – a friend who said, “You know what I got for my high school graduation? A trip to Vietnam.”
Now that’s sacrifice. That’s missing out. That’s giving up so much for your country and your community. And more than 50,000 made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.
Three of Max’s classmates have enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and will be heading out to boot camp to start training as infantrymen, engineers and electricians. Just as in 2018, when my eldest son, Nick, graduated from Battle Mountain, those three graduates all have Hispanic surnames – a testament to the ongoing sacrifice of our great Latino community that has helped make Vail what it is today – a world-renowned global outdoor recreation destination – and has for decades served our great country outside the valley and around the world.
Eagle Valley High School 2021 Valedictorian Sebie Witt is off to West Point and a career in the U.S. Army, joining one of his brothers on that path and another brother who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Now that’s sacrifice in the name of service.
From Battle Mountain to Eagle Valley, these young adults aren’t complaining about COVID. They understand it “could be worse” and they’re headed off to tackle all the planetary problems their parents have handed them, from pandemics to social unrest to inequality to climate change.
The vast majority of them do not seem to view wearing a mask or getting a vaccine as a sacrifice. They see these things as necessary Inconveniences to beat a disease that’s killed 23 Eagle County residents and more than 594,000 Americans since March of 2020. Unabated, COVID-19 will soon pass the American Civil War (620,000) as the deadliest event in U.S. history.
My late father, Col. Cecil Wayne Williams, went to law school thanks to the United States Air Force, and when he retired after more than 20 years, he became a judge for the state of Colorado. He did not despise government. He took an oath to defend it from all enemies domestic and foreign, and he believed that if you had problems with government’s inevitable bureaucracy, you worked from within to make things better. I’m sure he’s on a never-ending ski run somewhere, smiling and proud of his grandson and the unflinching attitude of the entire graduating class of 2021.
My dad did a stint in Vietnam and dragged his family around the world every few years. It wasn’t great to always be moving and trying to make new friends, but it was part of our family’s service to the country, and we got to travel the globe (learning to ski in Germany!). My mom, sister, late brother and I dutifully took our vaccines and packed our bags every couple of years, rarely complaining about the next overseas assignment.
Kids are adaptable, resilient, and willing to sacrifice; they just need to be asked.
It is, in fact, the parents who are complaining the most about COVID, and some have legitimate issues with a reduced school schedule that makes it so much tougher to work. And there are many kids who are struggling with being disconnected from friends and classmates and suffering terribly as a result. But they’re not being drafted and sent to Vietnam.
My dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of political issues, but we agreed that reinstating the draft may be what’s needed to end the vicious cycle of undeclared forever wars that have not had the desired effect of spreading democracy or stabilizing volatile regions of the world. Perhaps then parents would be more engaged in solving intractable policy issues at home and abroad.
Instead, loudly and rudely complaining without serving, whether it’s in the military or in federal, state or local government, seems to be the new normal. Why be part of the solution during a deadly global pandemic when it’s so much easier to be part of the problem?
Why run for your local school board or work for the public health office during a pandemic when it’s so much easier to scream ridiculous slogans and make unfounded accusations? Why work to broaden the appeal of your political party, when it’s so much easier to falsely claim an election was stolen and storm the capitol?
Democracy is hard, and maintaining it is even harder. It sometimes requires the ultimate sacrifice, as President Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, so “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
So here’s to true sacrifice on Memorial Day and every day, and to the heroes who choose a life of service.
Editor’s note: Anyone locally experiencing behavioral health issues should go to the Eagle Valley Behavioral Health website or call (970) 306-4673 in a crisis situation. Colorado kids in general are in the midst of what Children’s Hospital in Denver is calling a pediatric behavioral health crisis.