Photo by Kelly White
U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at Shepard High School held a 9-11 Remembrance at the school, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, on Friday morning. The event gave both students and staff time to recognize and reflect on the day’s magnitude.
By Kelly White
The school year may look and feel different, but local students are taking pride in keeping tradition alive.
For the fifth year in a row, the U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at Shepard High School held a 9-11 Remembrance Friday morning at the school, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights.
The event gave both students and staff time to recognize and reflect on the day’s magnitude.
"Although I wasn't alive during 9/11, I was taught about the unifying effect it had on our country,” said Camiron Witkowski, 15, of Worth. “This ceremony allows cadets to experience some of that unity by coming together in remembrance of that tragic day. It is one of many unique experiences from the program that instills discipline and respect."
The community could not witness the tribute in person this year but the school’s television studio filmed and live streamed the event on Facebook, making it accessible to all faculty and staff.
“Even with the pandemic and remote learning and so much going on in society that drives us apart, it is all the more reason to stay true to our traditions,” said Jodi Jasmin Pelini , digital media teacher at Shepard and Eisenhower high schools. “ We just can't let people forget what happened on Sept. 11. We need to remind people that back then —in the face of enormous loss and fear — we were united as a nation.”
Pelini still remembers where she was when the twin towers were hit.
“I was teaching television production at Gordon Tech High School in Chicago at the time,” Pelini said. “ I watched the events unfold on live TV with my class back then, obviously not knowing at the time what was going on. The first time that I witnessed Shepard's 9/11 tribute years later, I was simply awestruck by how powerfully moving it was. To have a ceremony every year to commemorate all those lives lost, it makes it real for our students, all of whom were born after that tragic day. On the one hand, the tribute makes them reflect on the loss and at the same time, it instills a sense of patriotism and pride.”
The school has been honoring 9-11 for the past decade, according to Shepard staff. However, the JROTC has taken over the remembrance ceremony for the past five years.
The JROTC is a program offered to high schools that teaches students character education, student achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity. The 110 students in the program under the guidance of Major Dan Johnson, Master Sergeant Chris Saberniak, and Cadet Jocelyn Anaya, Cadet Corps Commander, were responsible for the organization of the event.
Shepard has won a Distinguished Unit Award from the USAF the past several years, and the remembrance exemplifies the spirit of service that runs through the school’s JROTC program, school officials said.
“ Every year Major (Dan) Johnson and Master Sergeant (Chris) Saberniak and their JROTC students thoughtfully make time to remember the victims and first responders from that terrible day,” said Bob McParland , public information specialist for Community High School District 218. “This helps our students, none of whom were born in 2001, to further understand how the terrorist attacks affected the nation by sharing their personal memories of that day.”
“This is an event the cadets look forward to every year,” Johnson said. “I think they really benefit from connecting in a positive way to a significant event that didn't even happen in their lifetime.”
While Shepard’s school year is being held remotely, Friday’s memorial was held in-person while adhering to social distancing guidelines of worn masks, the proper distance between attendees and a limit of only 25 students permitted at the event.
The remembrance that featured a flag lowering, National Anthem and brief remarks by staff members was similar to previous years.
"9/11 symbolizes community and family and its shows how we all came together when we had to the most when we could have let adversity (beat us). We stood tall,” said Fares Tadros, 15, of Worth. “9/11 symbolizes what we can do as a country. We never failed to get back up.”