Locust Valley High School’s annual Flags for Freedom ceremony honored veterans while gifting an American flag to each member of the Class of 2021. This symbol of America is intended to remind the seniors of the patriotic values that are inherent to being an American citizen.
The flags were folded by members of the local American Legion posts. These veterans sat on stage during the ceremony and then handed the flags to each student. The program has been a tradition since 2015 when it was brought to the school by Operation Democracy. Kay Weninger, president of the organization, spearheaded the program in cooperation with Bryan Sarandrea, coordinator of social studies and business, K-12.
Ms. Weninger said the program “was designed by Operation Democracy to educate our students about flag etiquette, the history of the flag and to remind our students that the freedoms we have today are because of the sacrifices made by the men and women of the military.”
United States Navy Lt. Ryan Vessichelli, a Falcon alumnus and the guest speaker, shared with students what the flag represents to him. “In my eyes, our flag is a symbolic representation of the best of us, of who we are and who we must strive to be. It represents the duty that we have to not only our own self, but to those around us, to develop into the best possible version of ourselves, to not only accept challenge, but to actively seek it, to fight injustice and stand for that which is right, to grow, selflessly serve others, reject mediocrity and live the richest, fullest lives that we can. In my opinion, that is the true American way and that is how we honor those who have come before us and have sacrificed so much, not through empty platitudes but in living life in a manner consistent with our true potential and accepting nothing less.”
He went on to say, “The beauty in a flag is in its symbolic ambiguity. It is going to mean something different to each and every one of you, and that meaning will evolve as you move through life. You may not agree on what it stands for, not with me or not with each other, and that’s OK. Diversity of thought and opinion is one of the many things that makes our country great. For some of you it may in fact symbolize freedom and self-determination, a dream realized. For others it may symbolize struggle and hardship, a work in progress. Nevertheless, I wish for all of you that it symbolizes hope.”
Staff Sgt. Cherise S. Herrera and Sgt. Joseph Hendriks, also a Locust Valley alumnus, properly folded a flag on the stage as selected seniors spoke about the meaning of how the flag is folded. They then presented the flag to Lt. Vessichelli, who accepted the gift in formal military style. Seniors Benjamin Silver and Matthew Warner were recognized for their commitment to join the Air Force following graduation.
Other honored speakers included Ms. Weninger, Mr. Sarandrea, Superintendent of Schools Kenneth E. Graham, Ed.D., and Locust Valley High School Principal Patrick DiClemente. As they marched in place, high school band members played “A Medley of Patriotic Songs,” arranged by David Shaffer, adding to the impassioned feel of the event.
Held under blue skies and bright sunshine, Flags for Freedom would not have been possible without the support of the high school student leaders, Operation Democracy, American Legion Howard Van Wagner Post 962, American Legion Robert H. Spittel Post 1285, the Locust Valley High School Parents’ Council and the Locust Valley Fire Department.