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Thank you to the many veterans who contributed to George Walton Academy’s historic "I Did It For You" - a 12-week interdisciplinary, intensive study of the Vietnam War. This extraordinary and imaginative project engaged students in lessons taught through the lens of the Vietnam War and the 1960’s. Students visited museums and memorials and had the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts from veterans. Teachers incorporated the theme in history, science, art, literature, music, creative writing, technology, and creative writing.

More than 450 members of our community gathered for a moving honor ceremony as our students, faculty, band, chorus, speakers, and dignitaries gathered to thank our veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice. The program marked the conclusion of the study, as well as the final day of an exhibit of student art at the Walton County Government Building. Guests were given special commemorative books filled with artwork and writings created by the students. The impact of this experience is best described by GWA students:

Jenna Lo, GWA Sophomore

During the closing ceremony, I was sitting right in front of all of the veterans. I could see every reaction, every tear, and every emotion they felt. I was nervous about speaking in front of all of them since I had to present the Quilts of Valor to two of the veterans. I practiced what I had to say over and over again, but the pressure was still there. Before I was to present the quilts, the band played music, the chorus sang songs including “God Bless America” and a couple of veterans spoke. With all of that, I tried really hard not to cry. It seemed as if my eyes were tearing up the whole time, but I tried not to be too obvious. Hearing the veterans speak and the songs being played stirred up some emotion in me. I felt grateful, relieved, honored, and so proud of our country.

When it was time to present the quilts, all of that previous nervousness went away. I didn’t think too much about how I was speaking, but more about what I was saying and who I was saying it too. I had heard before that Jim Howell, the person I delivered the quilt too, was very emotional. It’s true. When I said his name and he stood up to receive the quilt, I saw the tears in his eyes. Standing right next to him, wrapping the quilt around him was such a surreal moment. I was so honored to give the quilt to him, especially since I had worked on it myself. After he said his thanks, I had one last excerpt to read. I tried my best to hold it in, but my emotions slipped, and my words were a bit choked up. When I was reciting what I had to say, I was looking right at Mr. Howell, and seeing the look on his face, the quilt wrapped around him, I’ll never forget that moment. I wish I could fully describe what I was feeling and experiencing, but it was an emotional rollercoaster. After the ceremony, whenever someone came up to me to talk about my speech, I either almost started to cry, or I did. I was half embarrassed that so many people saw me that emotional but also half honored. I was a part of something so extraordinary.

For one of the first times in my life, I was able to give back to the veterans for all that they have done for our country. That feeling of knowing I contributed is so rewarding. After the whole intensive, I understand the conflicts, sacrifices, controversies, and reasons for the Vietnam War, but most importantly, the people behind the action. I want to take the knowledge and experience I have gained from this and do something meaningful with it, because not everyone will be able to experience firsthand what I did. Our country and its people are worth fighting for, and my memories from this experience reminds me of why.

Megan McGoldrick, GWA Senior

As the “I Did It for You” intensive study comes to a close, I cannot help but to reflect back on the closing ceremony and how much this project has meant to me. Choosing to be a student leader for this intensive is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and seeing the tears, smiles and appreciation from every veteran at the ceremony made all of the preparation worth it. From behind the podium, I could see the friendly faces of veterans I had met months, days or even minutes ago looking on, ready to experience the praise they have never received but truly deserve. The Quilts of Valor were draped across two very deserving men, and a compilation of student work was compiled into a book and given to the veterans. Each branch of the military was represented through a song performed by the band and chorus, and as the veterans stood, they glowed with pride and patriotism.

As one final round of applause was given to the veterans at the end of the ceremony, I could not help but to hold back tears. The impact these veterans have had on my life is astounding, and I am sure their lessons will influence me throughout college and my adult life. There is no way for me to express how much this project has meant to me, and there is no way to thank each veteran as much as he or she truly deserves. The impact the “I Did It for You” intensive has had on my school and community is immense, and I cannot wait to see the lasting impacts continue to develop throughout the next several years.