Annual Veteran’s Day Panel a powerful lesson in Remembrance for students

GUELPH – It’s one thing to read about our nation’s history at times of war, but it’s another lesson entirely to hear the lived experiences of those who have faced war or are actively serving their country in times of conflict. 

At Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School, their Remembrance Week events include the annual Veteran’s Day Panel, a tradition over two decades old, that brings these lessons to students in real time.

“The experience of hearing from a veteran is priceless,” said Paul Zuccala, department head of the Canada and World Studies for the school, who has been involved with the event since 1996. 

“Excerpts of combat experience are common in modern learning materials, from quotes placed in literature, and circumstances encapsulated in photographs and on film,” he said. 

“But when up close and personal, our visiting WWII, Korean, Vietnam War, UN Peacekeeping and Afghanistan veterans affirm their choice to represent the values of Canada at potential cost to their lives while laying bare their frailty, students can feel the difference. 

“You can avert your eyes from a text, or character on film without much awkwardness. Try doing that to a veteran. A veteran’s eyes follow you.”

The Veteran’s Day Panel takes place on Nov. 9 and will welcome 10 veterans from across Guelph and Wellington County representing veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, United Nations Peacekeepers, and Guelph’s 11th Field Artillery Regiment. 

“On November the 11th we will also, as a school community, be showing up to the Sleeman Centre for the Civic Observance,” Zuccala said. 

“But the Annual Veterans Panel is the centrepiece because of the opportunity to welcome the veterans into our school community, in the comfortable confines of our school library, to celebrate them.”

Zuccala explains that the event is primarily for Grade 10 students whose history and civics curriculum are  focused on international conflicts and the role of citizenship in society, and if the library space allows, will also welcome senior level history, law or religion students. The library also offers veterans a more intimate audience, which he says, “helps to build a sense of confidentiality, and protect vulnerabilities.” 

“For this reason we have often dismissed calls to have the event live streamed or recorded,” Zuccala said.

Wellington Catholic District School Board Trustee and former Lourdes teacher Joe Tersigni will be acting as host of the event, facilitating statements, and helping field student questions. 

Zuccala hopes the annual event continues to encourage youth to understand the value of honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also to educate them on the conflicts in the greater world around them. 

“Remembrance Day is a day of recognition, if not a legislated holiday in Ontario. The trouble is that you cannot legislate recognition. Events get recognition,” Zuccala said. 

“This Veterans Panel event, always taking place in advance of November 11th, the day of Remembrance, hopefully alerts students to the day itself. It is supposed to set the tone, much as Christians use advent in preparation for Christmas Day, or Lent for Easter Sunday.”

He adds, “Through Remembrance students are reminded of the ongoing dangers in the world order, and the continuing heroism of those intent on protecting the vulnerable from those dangers.”

Zuccala said the event has created an important connection between the school community and the participating veterans and panel speakers, to become what he described as family. 

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