SABATTUS — Erin Black thought she’d be OK introducing her dad, two uncles and an aunt to her school. But moments in, her throat closed and her words ceased.
“I don’t know what happened,” the 14-year-old said later, still choking back tears. Her dad, Gary Black, stood nearby. His eyes were red and puffy.
“I never get a chance to tell them how proud I am,” Erin said.
That’s what the annual Memorial Day service at Sabattus Central School was meant to do.
Fathers, grandfathers, cousins and friends — veterans all — stood by while their eighth-grader introduced them. The intro included years served and where. Then, the kids spoke about why they were proud.
Erin Black called her dad “an American hero.”
“How often do you tell someone that you’re proud of them?” teacher Aimee Lanteigne said.
Lanteigne created the event eight years ago as a real-world lesson to her U.S. history students.
“If they learned about the holiday in a book, they’d forget it,” she said. “They’re not going to forget this.”
In all, 29 veterans were honored by the students Friday. Nearly half of the 57 eighth-graders either brought someone, made a speech or carried a flag to the assembly, gathering the entire 300-plus student body in the gymnasium.
“It’s grown a lot in eight years,” Lanteigne said.
The first one hosted 11 veterans and was held in a classroom. This time, there was live music from the Just Us performers at the start and a computer slide show at the end.
“This is the most important lesson I teach all year,” she said. “It’s probably the most important lesson I have taught in my life.”
Each time, the emotion just seems to come.
“You’re in for a treat,” she predicted at the start.
Lauren Beganny, who introduced her aunt Sabrina Beganny to the event, also had tears Friday.
When she could speak no longer, her aunt took over, reading Lauren’s sentiments of pride.
“I just looked down,” Lauren said later. Then she gave her aunt a hug. As they returned to their seats, Lauren stopped to give her teacher a hug, too.
“It’s a rare thing,” Lanteigne said. “How often do I thank my dad for his service? For some of these kids, it may be the only time they say this in their whole lives.”
Her father was there on Friday.
Once again, Lanteigne thanked her dad, Buddy Lanteigne.
“This is my way of serving my country,” she said.