Dear Putnam Valley Community:
Last week, 50 of our eighth-grade students visited Washington DC. The trip had been a tradition in Putnam Valley but had not been undertaken since the terror attacks in 2001. Everyone involved agreed that the trip was a memorable learning experience that needed to be repeated and become a tradition again. The principal, Mr. McCarty, recounted a particular incident at the Vietnam Memorial in the evening. He and another student assisted an eighth grader as she looked for her uncle’s name on the wall. When the name was found, all were moved by the discovery and the appreciation of what it meant to connect with one who had indeed given his life for his country. This experience made the trip particularly meaningful.
As we remember those who have given their lives so that we can continue to enjoy the gifts of living as Americans, we can reflect on what it means to live up to the ideals that our servicemen and women died to protect. In reading General Colin Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey, I have found myself attracted to his candid and balanced approach to his life and career in the military and in government. Powell was a four-star general, National Security Advisor in the Reagan administration, and Secretary of State from 2001-2005. His background was very relatable to many of us; Powell was raised by a very strong and loving family in the Bronx and attended Morris High School. His neighborhood was very diverse and he had friends from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Powell acknowledged that he was an average student without great ambitions until he entered City College when he was attracted to ROTC where he found a community that nurtured his leadership skills and a desire to succeed and excel. His experience in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War deepened his understanding of leadership and human frailty and his sensitivity to the consequences of poorly conceived decisions that sometimes led to the death of his troops. Powell was revered for his authenticity, compassion and support for the soldiers he commanded. He continues to live according to principles that have guided his life of service to his country. But Powell also acknowledges his mistakes and missteps. Powell’s thoughtful reflection on loyalty to our country and his compassionate description of the loss of soldiers in his battalion seem to embody the respectful expression of Memorial Day. We are reminded that we are indebted to those who sacrificed to preserve our Democracy and the freedoms we often take for granted; we are also uplifted by the character of leaders like Colin Powell who never left decency and dignity behind.
Wishing all a safe and happy weekend!
Dr. Frances Wills
Superintendent of Schools