Centennial choir sings at WWII memorial
CHAMPAIGN — Several Centennial High School students today are remembering World War II through song.
Nine members of Expressions, the high school's top choir, will sing today at the World War II Illinois Veterans Memorial in Springfield. They're participating in the memorial's D-Day remembrance ceremony.
"It's not a date to celebrate, but it's a date to remember," said Centennial choral director Marian Wyatt, as more than 4,400 Allied personnel died. "It's too easy for kids to be separated from that."
Honoring veterans is a tradition for Wyatt's students.
It started personally for Wyatt, whose grandfather and father-in-law both served in the military.
She's also had former students serve and even die doing so.
"I have people I don't want to forget," she said, and helping students learn about veterans' service is one more way to remember.
Everywhere the choir members go, they sing a medley of the songs for the different branches of the U.S. armed forces. This sparks an emotional connection between students and their audience, Wyatt said.
As the choir sings, veterans who have served in those branches, as well as their families, stand or wave when they hear their branch's song.
That's a highlight for choir members, several said.
"You can tell they take pride in serving their country," junior Destiny Norris said.
Seeing veterans' reactions is a powerful experience, said student director Jack Reeder, who's a sophomore, and he likes being able to see veterans' personal connections with the songs.
Junior Reis DeSantis agreed.
"It makes the actual song more meaningful," he said.
Centennial's choirs went to Washington this spring and shared many special moments with veterans they met there. They sang for a gentleman they met, whose father had been buried at Arlington National Ceremony that morning. He was still holding the folded American flag from the burial.
They also met a busload of World War II veterans from Oklahoma and sang at a nursing home, Wyatt said.
The students also sang at the Illinois memorial's gala this spring. The World War II Classroom Project paid the students an honorarium, as well as for lunch and transportation, as well as a substitute teacher for Wyatt.
The project will do the same for today's trip to Springfield, Wyatt said. It's funded by the World War II Memorial Board, with money left over from fundraising to build the memorial.
For the past five years, Wyatt and her students have also been contributing to the classroom project, which has students interviewing veterans, making videos and documenting them in the Library of Congress.
The videos are posted at http://tinyurl.com/WWIIclassroom. Students at Franklin Middle School also participate in the World War II Classroom Project, Wyatt said.
This summer, the project will be incorporated into the Illinois Veterans and Community Classroom Project, which will feature more materials and highlight the service of veterans of other wars, said Vicki DeWitt, who is director of the Area V Learning Technology Center in Edwardsville.
DeWitt said the classroom project's interviews, as well as the students' music for events like today's, is important for helping students learn the importance of veterans' sacrifices.
"We're losing that generation so fast. They're dying so quickly," DeWitt said. "It's (the students') opportunity to understand why that memorial is important, and why it's important to ... ensure that World War II veterans are not forgotten."