SUTHERLIN — The lights in the Sutherlin High School gymnasium dimmed Thursday just as a video began to play. Pictures of local veterans mixed with messages from Sutherlin students.
“Thanks to you, I get to learn.”
“Thanks to you, I can raise animals.”
“Thanks to you, when I turn 18, I can vote.”
The video was part of an assembly to commemorate the fifth annual Veteran Visitation at the school. The event was founded by Sutherlin Middle School counselor Alesha Hunt, who grew up listening to stories from her dad about his service.
“When he returned home, he wasn’t treated very well,” Hunt said. “That broke my heart. I thought it was important that we bring these stories to this generation of kids so they understand those sacrifices and really understand what has taken place for them to have the lives they have today.”
Nearly 35 local veterans attended to share stories with students from both the high and middle school. They gathered at tables that were brimming with pictures, plaques and awards.
Hunt said even though the students only get to visit with two veterans, the stories always seems to stick with them.
“There is always one story that resonates with them and they will forever tell those stories to me,” Hunt said. “Whatever it is, they will make a connection, relate to some story, or maybe it’s a moment for them to go, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea.’ For each one of them, it is a little different.”
High school students Nolan Carson, Sydnee Tilley and Grace Matteo have participated every year of the event.
“Being upperclassman, we have had the chance to be going through this all five years and just seeing the advances that the event has had is awesome,” Tilley said. “It’s awesome to see how big it has gotten.”
All three said seeing the interconnection occur in their community was the biggest takeaway.
“Every day we don’t really realize they are among us, every day,” said Carson. “This is just a good opportunity for us to recognize what they have done for us, thank them for that, as well as learn from them and the stories they have to share.”
The three also said that the stories help bring to life what they learn in their classes.
“When you are learning about it in history class, it doesn’t really impact you as much,” Matteo said. “You hear a lot more about the numbers and the facts. But then to actually hear the personal stories and it’s moving. It really adds to what happened and how awful the wars were.”