Patriotic Presentation 2014

From Dennis Runey, Head of School

In response to the many requests received, PCA is happy to share speeches given during the Patriotic Presentation in honor of Memorial Day.

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As I prepared for this event, I realized that this would be the last time I would have the opportunity to speak to the entire student body.  Accordingly, I chose to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on a subject that is very dear to me, patriotism.  Ever since its inception, PCA has had as one of its purposes to promote “Allegiance to, respect and appreciation for our country and its symbol, the American flag.” We do this, primarily, by properly and prominently displaying the American and Christian flags in each classroom, by observing Veterans’ and Memorial Days, and by this annual Patriotic Presentation.

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An understanding of our country’s history, its early struggles, the Christian influence of the original settlers, and the early, heated, and thoughtful debates over how the country should be governed are all critical, in our minds, to preparing our students to be good, contributing citizens.  We agree with the author George Santayana who famously wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So, what is patriotism?  Patriotism is defined in the dictionary as “a love for or devotion to one’s country.”  It is an intensely personal emotion as each of us responds in different ways to situations or events that invoke this strong attachment to our culture, history, to the country of our birth.

Denis Johnson wrote in his book Tree of Smoke, about his feelings for the country: “At the sight of the flag he tasted tears in his throat.  In the Stars and Stripes all the passions of his life coalesced to produce the ache with which he loved the United States of America – with which he loved the dirty, plain, honest faces of GIs in the photographs of World War Two, with which he loved the sheets of rain rippling across the green playing field toward the end of the school year, with which he cherished the sense-memories of the summers in his childhood, the many Kansas summers, running the bases, falling harmlessly onto the grass, his head beating with heat, the stunned streets of breezeless afternoons, the thick, palpable shade of colossal elms, the muttering of radios beyond the windowsills, the whirring of redwing blackbirds, the sadness of the grown-ups at their incomprehensible pursuits, the voices carrying over the yards in the dusks that fell later and later, the trains moving through town into the sky. His love for his country, his homeland, was a love for the United States of America in the summertime. ”

Or, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.  It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

Listen also to the thoughts of the author Richard Maybury “To me, patriotism means dedication to the principles on which the country was founded and a willingness to stand firm and fight for these principles regardless of what the government says or does.”

Notice the common theme in these quotations:  We are advised that our patriotism should be reserved for our country, and what it represents, not for the government which oversees it.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.”

So, what does it mean to be patriotic?  Does standing on the curb, waving a flag at the annual 4th of July parade make us patriots?  I think not, though doing so is a good thing.  Is it constantly pointing out shortfalls in our government without offering a solution?  I don’t think so.

Just as saying that one is a Christian does not mean you are one.  The proclamation must be followed by the manifestation of that faith, good works.  Similarly, being patriotic entails a greater effort on our parts than just saying we love our country or putting a patriotic decal on your car or flying the flag on the 4th of July.  It means doing something meaningful and with impact, not just saying something with no action.  And it is this additional effort that we try to instill at PCA and that we encourage our students to embrace.

The discernment necessary to distinguish between our government and our country, as pointed out by the previously quoted authors, can only be obtained by a well-educated and informed public.  As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  In other words, you cannot be ignorant and free.  He went on to say”. . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government……

To be patriotic, then, is to obtain an excellent education, to include healthy doses of history so that there is a greater appreciation for the fundamental tenets or beliefs of our founders and the sacrifices of those who preceded us.

It is also incumbent upon each of us to be well-informed, to seek to know and understand the issues of the day, and to be able to discern fact from fiction.  You must learn to think critically, and to be able to analyze and parse various issues so that you can arrive at an intellectually sound opinion.  You must read and study source material that offers all points of view, and not just focus solely on sources that best represent your own.  Be intellectually honest by weighing the merits of each issue and not relying upon emotion or political correctness to shape your decisions.  Be brave enough to stand on principles, and not intimidated by others who may be in opposition to your point of view.

Once well-educated and informed then you must become active in the public forum by actively participating in the political process by casting informed votes at every level of government.  This process should begin in your 18th year and continue for the rest of your life.   It is by doing so that you demonstrate your patriotism, your love of country, by casting a vote that is the manifestation of that excellent education and careful research I spoke of earlier.

Other ways of expressing your patriotism are getting involved in community service or outreach programs that benefit the less fortunate among us or to contribute in some small way to making our country better.  It is also critical that you participate in local and state political activities that will help shape future policies, laws, and regulations.  Write your elected representatives when you are concerned, and hold them accountable for their votes and decisions.  Remember, as Lincoln famously wrote, this a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, not the other way around.

Another way a citizen can demonstrate patriotism in deed rather than words is to serve in the country’s armed forces.  If one truly loves ones country and what it stands for, then it follows that it is something worth preserving, even fighting for.  As the classic country and western song says “If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing at all.” Certainly that was the belief of the early patriots who took on the greatest power on earth and defeated it against all odds.  That was the belief, too, of the over 40,000,000 men and women who have fought for our freedom throughout this country’s history.  Today, less than 1% of our citizens serve in our armed forces.  Only 1% carry the entire burden of defending our nation and what it stands for.  It is an unusually heavy burden to place on such a small segment of our society.  Perhaps some of you will someday decide to join their ranks.

The writing that has most influenced my own patriotic and life pursuits was written by Theodore Roosevelt and presented at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1911.  It is called his “Arena” speech and he seeks to describe the difference between being a spectator and being an active participant in the democratic process.  He writes “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Our goal when we formed this school was to offer a rigorous education, steeped in history, and focused on developing both critical thinking skills and the ability to speak and write convincingly.  We also sought to provide a foundation of values, based on our faith, that would guide your decision making process.  All this was put in place so that you would be prepared to participate in the arena, to be a problem solver, to be a change maker.  That is my prayer for you on this day.  That each of you would commit to participating fully in the democratic process by studying history, evaluating various issues and arguments, and, ultimately, participating in the ungainly, but non-violent, system for effecting change called the democratic process.

We have prepared you for the arena, we want you in the arena, “daring greatly!”

May God bless this school, our country, and each of you, and may God bless all those we remember with such a deep debt of gratitude on this Memorial Day.

Chloe Ebbrecht also gave a speech that she wrote for an essay competition called the Patriot’s Pen sponsored by the VFW for 6th-8th grade students. Chloe won her Post (Kennebunk/Wells, ME), then went on to win the Southern Maine district , and placed second in the state  with her essay.

What Does Patriotism Mean to Me?

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To truly understand what patriotism means to me, I do not look in the dictionary; I look inside my own heart. Patriotism lives there. It is in my own heart that I feel deep love for my country. Patriotism burned in the heart of George Washington, who led his troops on a bitterly cold Christmas night in 1776 across the Delaware River and executed a surprise attack on the British to set the colonies free. The love of country sustained Paul Revere, who rode to Lexington, risking his life to warn the townspeople about the British coming. A sacrificial love for his country propelled Nathan Hale, a soldier in the Continental Army, to lose his life to the British and speak these words before being hanged, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Patriotism means that our hearts overflow with pride for our country when we hear the words of Samuel Adams, “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.”

Patriotism is still alive in our country; modern day patriots carry the same passion of the Founding Father in their hearts. Corporal Joshua Hargis was injured in a military operation in Afghanistan on October 6, 2013. While supposedly unconscious, a purple heart was being placed on his hospital blanket by his commander. He then slowly raised his hand to salute, fighting through hospital tubes and wires, reminding us all of the patriotic virtues that Teddy Roosevelt spoke of: courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood.

I also see patriotism in little things, like proudly saying the pledge of allegiance and praying for the leaders of our country that they will make wise decisions and move our country forward. However, I believe that the people who show the most patriotism of all are the men and women who faithfully serve in the military to defend our country. They risk their lives daily to help ensure that we are able to keep and enjoy all of the freedoms for which our Founding Fathers fought so bravely. True patriotism, the love for and devotion for my country, lives in my heart. I am blessed to live in a country where patriots still live by the motto, “Non Sibi Sed Patriae… Not for self, but for country.”

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