U.S. Navy Lt. Mary Kaye P’20 had an important message for the students assembled in Benson Gymnasium Monday, at a Veterans Day gathering to honor those who have served their country in the military. Recalling her own unexpected entry into military service, while a student at Villanova, she knew there was just one word that made all the difference.
The word was “Yes.” Soldiers, first responders, and others on the front lines were the ones, she said, “who are willing to say yes, to serve—even though they don’t know what’s on the other side of that yes.” In Kaye’s case, it wasn’t combat duty but rather training to be a naval pilot who was deployed to 23 countries, flying military scientists around the globe to conduct oceanographic research in support of anti-submarine warfare.
“I hope you’ll find your yes,” she said to the students, who listened attentively. Whether it be in military service or medicine, finance or marketing, said Kaye, she said she hoped that they would keep their minds and hearts open to whatever lay on the other side of their yes.
The Veterans Day assembly is a decades-old Rivers tradition. Other schools may take the day off, noted Head of School Ned Parsons, but Rivers “takes the day on.” It’s an opportunity for the entire community to recognize and express gratitude for the sacrifices of those who serve in the military.
Rivers veterans—comprising parents, alumni, grandparents, and friends—gathered at the front of the room, each introducing him or herself and speaking briefly of their military experience. There were Iraq veterans and Vietnam-era veterans and, perhaps most remarkably, World War II veteran Bob Cleverdon ’40, who will celebrate his 98th birthday later this month and who served as a navigator aboard a B-24 bomber.
This past summer, Cleverdon received the French Legion Medal of Honor in recognition of his three missions (out of a total of 30 flown) over France. The medal was bestowed at a Bastille Day ceremony at the Cambridge residence of France’s consul general in Boston. On Veterans Day, Cleverdon’s daughter Lisa Cleverdon Clark was on hand to share the story with the Rivers community and to speak of her father’s selfless heroism, so characteristic of his generation.
After the ceremony, the entire school and the visiting veterans gathered around the flagpole, as “Taps” was played. Later, a few of the veterans visited Middle School classrooms, answering students’ questions about their time in the military.
Students, in formal dress, grasped the solemnity of the occasion. In his earlier remarks, Parsons referred to FDR’s “four freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These precious freedoms, defended at great personal cost by the men and women of our armed services, lie at the very heart of our democracy, he said—and at the heart of the school’s observation of Veterans Day.
“It is easy, as Americans, to take the freedoms we have for granted, and it is easy to think of Veterans Day as just a welcome break from work or school,” Parsons said. “But at Rivers, we make the conscious choice to use the day as it was intended—a day to be together as we remind ourselves that the freedoms we enjoy did not accrue to us by accident and are not preserved without effort. We use this day to thank those who have made the choice to serve and protect.”
To view a gallery of Veterans Day photos, click here