Many high school students choose college as their destination after graduation, and receive lots of attention for that decision. A collection of high schools near Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood wanted to bring that same recognition to students who join the military.
More than 500 people packed the Waynesville High School gym Wednesday night to honor 90 high school students from 12 schools who will join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard after graduation.
Waynesville School District Superintendent Brian Henry said these students are often overlooked. That’s why he and military personnel planned the celebration.
“This is like an honors night,” Henry said. “We as a community need to make sure these kids know that we support them, and that we appreciate them going into the military, and that it’s an exciting thing that needs to be celebrated.”
Caleb Dicus is one of those students. He is graduating from Steelville High School this spring and is enlisting in the Army. He called the event humbling.
“It’s almost overwhelming to see that so many people support every single person who would be going into the armed forces,” Dicus said. “It is very encouraging.”
A military band played patriotic songs, and each of the students were called up on stage to be recognized. There were numerous standing ovations.
Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, commander at Fort Leonard Wood, was the keynote speaker. She told the graduates their decision needs to be celebrated.
“So students, if you haven’t already figured this out, you’re a pretty big deal. Tonight, we celebrate you,” Martin said. “We thank you for joining the less than 1% of Americans who serve and sacrifice in defense of this great nation.”
Martin said too often high school students get a negative reaction when they express an interest in the armed forces.
“You probably had friends or relatives that looked at you like you were crazy when you told them that you had decided to join the military,” Martin said. “That’s because they don’t understand that you are truly unique.”
Martin said more communities need to hold celebration events like the one in Waynesville.
Gov. Mike Parson, a veteran of the Army, also came to lend his support to the students and to challenge the communities to do their part to match the graduates' dedication to serve to the country.
“And for the parents, family members, and the people here to support these young men and women, that’s going to be your calling — to support them,” Parson said.
The organizers said they intend to make the celebration an annual event.
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