Next Monday is Memorial Day — a day to honor the memory of those who died during military service. There are tens of thousands of them.
One thing they have in common is that they all started their military service with the following words: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”
Those are the opening words of the oath of enlistment.
Nick Georgiafandis has heard his daughter and his son repeat those words as they committed to military service.
The words in the oath were especially meaningful to Nick Georgiafandis, legendary retired Edison High School band director, Mr. G., when he heard his son say them at his recent U.S. Marine swearing in ceremony.
“I am president-elect of the Milan Rotary Club,” he explains. “And last July, our current president George Austin got the idea that our club should do something to raise awareness about the U.S. Constitution. He thought we should reach out to the local schools in some way.
“So we set up a little committee with George and myself and Dave Snook who was Superintendent of the Berlin-Milan Schools at the time. We thought about just giving away copies of the Constitution to all the kids, but we knew that probably would not really do much for constitutional awareness. We felt like we had to get the kids involved with it in some way.
“What we came up with was an essay contest with some scholarship money as incentive to participate. The Berlin Heights Kiwanis contributed some money and our Rotary funded the rest. Our three scholarships ended up being $500, $350 and $250.
“So we went to the senior government classes and passed out copies of the U.S. Constitution to every student on Constitution Day last September. More than 30 of them submitted essays to be judged by high school government and English teachers. The essays were coded so that no one knew who wrote what essay until after they were scored.
“Many of them were very good. And we came up with three exceptional winners. In fact, all three of them were so good we should have had just one prize and divided it three ways.”
The contest winners are Zoe Gastier, first place; Ryan Reber, second place; and Remi Hoffman, third place.
The contest instructions said that entrants should explain how the U.S. Constitution has been meaningful in the lives of the students and their families.
And the three top entries did a thoughtful and sometimes touching job of meeting that requirement. The essayists chose widely different, but equally profound, aspects of the Constitution for their arguments.
Zoe Gastier, for instance, had several remarkable examples of how the Fifth Amendment and its protection against abuse of government authority in legal procedure had been important to her family through the generations.
Ryan Reber concluded his essay with the importance of the 26th amendment to him personally. That is the amendment that will allow him to vote after his next birthday, when he turns 18.
And I would have given Remi Hoffman an award just on the basis of her final three sentences: “Each and every one of the rights set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights by our founding fathers are unique, significant, and worthy of utmost respect and defense. They are unalienable, timeless, and applicable to all United States citizens regardless of race, gender, or creed. We are forever indebted to the wisdom of our founding fathers and should honor them through fierce protection and preservation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
It’s good to see how thoughtful young people can be when asked to think about the foundation for our wonderful country, isn’t it?
But back to Nick Georgianfandis at his son’s Marine swearing in ceremony for a moment.
“After spending a year on this Constitutional Awareness campaign, when I heard those young men and women swear that they would defend the Constitution of the United States, I thought ‘I wonder how many of them have even read it.’” Mr. G concluded.
“And it made me feel even better about our essay contest and all the young people who participated in it. It turned out to be a really cool thing.”
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.