Shepard High School students salute as an ensemble from the Shepard marching band performs the national anthem prior to the start of the walk-a-thon that took place at the JROTC 9/11 memorial event held Friday at the school.
The administration, faculty and student body at Shepard High School in Palos Heights gathered on the school campus grounds Friday to remember and reflect on the horrific events that shook our nation on Sept. 11, 2001.
For the fourth year in a row, the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at Shepard High School held a 9/11 memorial event. JROTC is a program offered to high schools that teaches students character education, student achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity. The 113 students in the program are under the guidance of Major Dan Johnson and Master Sergeant Chris Saberniak.
“Sept. 11 is a day we all must remember because of all the people who lost their lives,” said Paulina Witek, 16, of Worth. “I enjoyed helping out with this ceremony because we are all honoring and paying our respects to all who perished on that day. I believe this is truly beneficial for everyone.”
The U.S. was the victim of a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 3,000 people when two planes crashed through the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Another aircraft also deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Another plane crashed and killed all the passengers in Shanksville, Pa., 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
To begin the day, JROTC cadets walked for 14 miles on the track in the football stadium to raise money for The Heart of a Marine Foundation. The Heart Of A Marine Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides comfort, support, financial assistance and educational resources to improve the quality of life of military personnel in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including veterans and their families. Each JROTC member collected money in their own discretion for the walk.
This was the first year the walk was held, according to Johnson.
Johnson has been instructing the Shepard JROTC program for eight years, with this marking the second year of instruction for Saberniak.
“We wanted to do something more visible to remember 9/11, and our cadets can earn a ribbon for their uniform if they organize and participate in a 14-mile walk, so we decided to combine those opportunities into one,” Johnson said.
Throughout the school day, inside of the building and also outside on the track inside the football stadium, JROTC cadets dispersed to read the names of all victims who perished on 9/11. The list of 3,000 names was obtained by the cadets through the website, 911memorial.org.
“I think it is easy to miss the impact of 3,000 people being killed on a single day,” Saberniak said. “When you take the time to read each name, the victims become people, not just numbers.”
“I enjoyed bringing everyone together as a whole to pay respect to the victims of 9/11,” said Samantha Gebbia, 17, of Worth. “9/11 was the day we as a nation stood together as one to mourn those we lost and to fight against a common terror.”
Previous 9/11 events hosted by JROTC were held only at the start of the school day and did not involve many others from the school.
This year, teachers had the option to choose to bring out their classes for each period during the day to the football track to observe the walk and read the names of the victims. In order to help teachers prepare for the observation, JROTC cadets developed a short presentation explaining the event to classes about the importance of 9/11.
“The hope this year was that by extending the ceremony, more students and staff were also able to participate at some point during the day,” Johnson said.
The presentation consisted of JROTC cadets explaining the activity at the track and also sharing some facts and details about 9/11.
“The presentation was beneficial to students since few, if any, high school students have first-hand memories of that day,” Johnson said. “Students were able to gain an appreciation for what their parents, grandparents and older siblings might feel when 9/11 comes around. To most of today’s high school students, 9/11 is simply another historical event. If those of us who lived through those days can share our memories with them, the lessons of that day will be remembered.”