Veterans attending the Veterans Day program in Rutland not only heard the appreciation of students but also witnessed evidence those students understood the meaning of their service.

Nearly every student in the district participated in a program which included a tribute to the Armed Forces and culminated in the announcement that, with their Penny War, students raised enough money to send three veterans to Washington, D.C., with Midwest Honor Flight. Senior Jasper Agnew announced they had raised $2,017.95, not including donations made Thursday morning.

KELO-Land later announced they raised more than $3,000 and were able to send four veterans to D.C.

As moving as the music, poetry and other readings were, it was in the Patriots Pen essays and Voice of Democracy essay, written by the students themselves, which demonstrated the greatest appreciation for the values for which servicemen and women were willing to make the sacrifices for which they were being honored.

“Being a good American is not just about respecting our country, but respecting other people as well,” sixth-grade student Rowan Anderson read from his essay.

He talked about the importance of kindness and accepting others, comparing people to candy and saying different kinds of candy can still be enjoyed. He also spoke about the sacrifices of veterans.

“Veterans often come back to have no home, no money, not even food to feed themselves. These people trained for months, fought for months, they spend valuable time fighting for us just to come back to nothing. It’s truly unfortunate that the people who deserve the most often get the least,” Anderson said.

Harmony Gilkerson placed respect for the flag and military service within the larger context of community.

“America is a place where we come together to build a community. It’s a place to help people around us and build trust in each other,” she read, and continued by explaining how this has been done. “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job right.”

Hattie Hanson spoke about the nation’s beauty and the importance of caring for the environment.

“America is very diverse with its landscapes from mountains to plains, to oceans, lakes, valleys and forests. All across America, everything is beautiful. We should preserve it and keep it the way it always is,” she read.

Josie Nold, with her Voice of Democracy essay, “America: Where do we go from here?” posed the greatest challenge and offered the greatest hope with her vision. She began with a strong question: “So, I ask you, will we stand up and unite for the greater good of the America we love, or will we continue to disagree and fight amongst ourselves?”

She asked what happened to American patriotism and made note of the lack of trust citizens place in their government.

“I believe we are losing our constitutional rights and question whether the philosophy of ‘We the People,’ on which our country was founded, is being followed. Nowadays, it seems the government is mostly about money and power, which is not right,” Nold read.

She challenged elected officials and others in government to relearn the meaning of patriotism and help rebuild unity. But she did not just leave it at that; she brought it home to all Americans.

“As American citizens, we need to understand the meaning of true citizenship and know our constitutional rights and privileges, but also the rights of our fellow Americans. There is a right to protest; however, the Constitution specifically states ‘peacefully’,” Nold read.

She said each generation must learn what true citizenship is and practice true citizenship. This involves knowing the Constitution, knowing the nation’s history and working for greater good.

“This also means working together to bring unity and a stronger America,” she said, and concluded, “I still hold hope and faith in the recovery of America, an America that is stronger and lasts forever. A stronger America will require citizens to work together and unite for the greater good of us all.”

The Veterans Day program was preceded by a breakfast for area veterans in the school gym where tables were decorated with a patriotic theme. Those who attended were joined by family members attending the school.