Last Thursday, I traveled with students in Ms. Kate Savage's Drawing & Composition class to The Veterans Home of California to present the portraits and biographies of a dozen veterans who participated in an interdisciplinary service learning project. Last fall, students in Ms. Savage's art class partnered with students in Dr. Zusky's Literature of War and Conflict elective to sketch and interview these veterans of our nation's armed forces. Veteran participants from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were among those on hand at Thursday's lunch-time reception, some seeing and reacting to their finished portraits and biographies for the first time. As a small crowd of veterans, veteran family members and VA staff assembled in the lobby, the students took turns honoring each participating veteran by presenting their framed portrait and reading from their biography. Fellow veterans were as engaged as the students to hear the various stories and exploits of those honored, some biographies recounting the successes and challenges of military service while others highlighted the veterans' post-war careers and family life. "Just seeing the veterans' faces and how happy and appreciative they all were was a real highlight," remarked junior Sydney L. "And being able to incorporate their lives into something we enjoy doing, and as part of class, was really special." Recognition and appreciation of this unique experience was expressed not only by the students, but by the veterans alike. Among the many words of gratitude, one Vietnam veteran, who was moved to tears at the end of the reception, addressed the students on behalf of those present: "You don't know how much this means to all of us to be honored in this way, "he told the students. "Thank you!"
Now in its fifth year, the Veteran Portrait and Biography Project has grown in scope and impact to include students in AP Art and Advanced Photography and has touched the lives of over a hundred VA residents at The Veterans Home of California, The Home for Heroes and New Directions for Veterans. The impact of such a project was indeed palpable to all in attendance on Thursday. As Director of Service Learning, I have been honored to help design and facilitate this project, and proud to see how our students have embraced the opportunity with increasing thoughtfulness, skill and enthusiasm over the years. Junior Isabella C., who participated in the project for a second year in a row, characterized best the spirit of this unique project: "When you draw anyone's image it's a token of appreciation, but the fact that it's a veteran makes it that much more rewarding because it's a population of people who have done so much for our country, but yet are so often overlooked. So, I feel like it's a small way to show them that we are keeping them in mind."