Shaler Area modifies Veterans Day celebration


Rebecca Beckas

Established as a holiday 67 years ago, Veterans Day honors the military veterans who have served in the US armed forces. Over about 20 years ago, the Shaler Area Middle School faculty and students found their own way to honor the veterans, through events such as a breakfast, music performances, and this year, even a drive through incorporating the two.

For almost ten years, Mrs. Merrit McDaniel, a teacher at the middle school, has organized this event as a way to honor the veterans within the Shaler Area community, emphasizing student involvement and their participation and engagement in community service, whether it’s by serving breakfast, waving flags and greeting veterans, or even playing music.

The middle school students typically involved are the cheerleaders, the choir and band students, student government, and even sometimes the sports teams. This year, though, the high school Jazz band and choir seniors joined the event.

Before the pandemic, this event was always advertised as a Veterans Day Breakfast, where more than 500 veterans were invited for the breakfast. Along with food, there was war memorabilia, cards from students, music performances, speeches from faculty, and vendors, like Quilts of Valor, for the veterans to enjoy as they visited the middle school for the event.

During COVID, though, Mrs. McDaniel admitted that it was harder to host this event, but she was able to put together a tribute video to share with the community.

“Unfortunately, we did not have the celebration last year [since] we were remote, and no one was in the school. However, I made a tribute video that we put out and shared with the community,” she said.

Veterans and SAMS students in the Veterans Day drive through celebration.

This year, however, as restrictions have been lifted and everyone is back in person for school, McDaniel took inspiration from the drive-through graduation and birthday celebrations during quarantine. The goal was to show their appreciation for the veterans as best as they could, incorporating old traditions into a new format.

“This year, we still wanted to do something.  We came up with the Drive Through Parade, offering coffee and donuts… We wanted all of the students to line the building and wave flags and cheer them on. Just something to honor the Veterans.”

McDaniel wants to bring back the traditional breakfast, as it was not only a meal for the veterans in the community, but a social gathering as well.

“​I would really like to host the breakfast again; it was more of a social event for the Veterans.  I felt they missed that, and they looked forward to that all year.   We had more of a turn out with the breakfast.  If we do the drive through parade again, we have learned what to do differently and will advertise more to have as many Veterans attend as possible,” McDaniel said.

Even so, McDaniel takes pride in what she and everyone involved does for this event, and what it means for the veterans. She wants to let the veterans know that they are appreciated for all they have done for the country, not only by the adults, but by the students learning about them as well.

“I love seeing all the Veterans and the pride they have.  They all usually wear some of their military attire or even a uniform,” she said. “I also love to see them interact with the students. They are very impressed with our students and compliment how they are so well behaved, respectful, and interested.”