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South Salt Lake Journal

Granite Park Junior High receives award for commitment to honoring veterans

Mar 29, 2019 09:26AM ● By Lindsey Baxter

Governor Gary Herbert, Granite Park Junior High Principal Aaron Wilson, and members of the Freedom Foundation of Utah. (Courtesy of Aaron Wilson)

By Lindsey Baxter | [email protected]

What started with the discovery of a bronzed plaque in a storage closet has turned into a tradition at Granite Park Junior High School — one that has now earned national recognition. The memorial plaque, a gift from Granite Junior's Class of 1948, led to a Veterans Day production honoring the 22 fallen alumni whose names appeared on it.

But that's not the end of the story.

"The Veterans Day event awoke our students to a pride in their country and respect for those that serve," said Aaron Wilson, principal of Granite Park Junior High School of two years. He added, "It also connected our school with the surrounding community in ways we never had before." 

The most touching moment of their production, Wilson continued, was having current Granite Park students stand in the place of the young men who died in war in a "Principal's Roll Call." The weeks leading up to the event, students in the school had studied the biographies of these young men and had even written letters to their surviving family members who would be in attendance that day.

Part of the project was having all teachers in the social studies department tasked with having their students write a letter of gratitude to each of the family members. Curtis Jones, an eighth-grade United States history teacher who has been at Granite Park for 22 years said, “Ninety-nine percent of my students wrote letters, and I told Aaron this that it was the best assignment I have ever given.”

The tradition has continued with Granite Park students honoring another group of alumni the following year. An additional memorial wall was created and unveiled during their 2018 Veterans Day production, honoring school alumni who died in Vietnam War. Similar to the year before, students learned about previous students at Granite Park who served during a period of war. And just as before, had learned about these men who fought their country, inviting their surviving family members to be honored.

"This tradition will continue for as long as I am principal here," Wilson said.

Representing his students and faculty, Wilson accepted a national award from the Utah Chapter of the Freedom Foundation. The George Washington Medal of Freedom was given to Granite Park Junior High School, acknowledging their commitment to honoring veterans. It was presented by Governor Gary Herbert and is now on display at the school.

The mission of the Freedom Foundations of Utah is to educate about American rights and responsibilities, honor acts of civic virtue, and challenge all to reject apathy and get involved. The vision is that all Americans actively engage in our democracy by celebrating our heritage, defending the Constitution, and protecting individual freedoms.

“Last year, we had an assembly for the veterans of World War II, and we honored around 20 veterans that had gone to Granite Park Junior High School. Wilson and a former principal (Danny Stirland) found a plaque in the school with these former students (names on it) who had gone to World War II and died. The plaque was in a closet somewhere and they were walking through and the other principal stepped on it,” Curtis said.

“They said we need to do something for these guys that went here and gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The plaque is now in the front office area. They invited the families to the assembly to honor them. In my opinion, I thought it was the best assembly I had ever been to. It was really emotional and very informative, it was incredible,” Curtis said.

This was a promotional video made and sent out to veterans, students’ families, and other dignitaries prior to the event. Assembly invitation:

When students, families, veterans, dignitaries, and others were walking in to the auditorium, this student-produced video was shown prior to starting the production.

There were several touching parts during the production. One was inviting bagpipers who played “Amazing Grace” on stage while these biographies were shown on the auditorium projector.

This video was made by the Granite Park film class students and was shown during the assembly, then again to the Board of Education as a reverence during their board meeting.