As “The Star-Spangled Banner” blared through speakers and lawn chairs appeared on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall (SamPhil), over 100 students gathered in protest of what they deemed an underwhelming observance of Memorial Day.
On Monday, May 25, students engaged in the sit-in as they skipped class and instead wrote letters to troops, watched the full raising of the flag in Flagstaff Courtyard and petitioned for support from their peers.
Keegan Cummings ’17, Howard Johnson ’17, Henry Meyerrose ’17, Will Nuga ’17 and Andrew Reavis ’17 planned the protest the night before Memorial Day, when Cummings posted on the Class of 2017 Facebook page voicing concern about Andover’s lack of commemoration of the holiday.
“I find it disrespectful to the millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives who have lost their lives that we are going to class tomorrow. Tomorrow should be a day of reflecting and commemorating the lives of those lost in combat, not solving chemistry problems,” wrote Cummings on the Class of 2017 Facebook page.
Soon after, Reavis commented on the post, calling for a sit-in on the steps of SamPhil. The post spread all over Facebook, and after receiving more likes and shares, Johnson began to plan the logistics of the demonstration with Cummings, Reavis, Meyerrose and Nuga, who live together in Flagg House. “We thought there was a better way to commemorate our fallen heroes other than going to class, and considering it was a national holiday, we felt like we had to do something about it. We talked to our House Counselor, [William Leahy], and he was on board and told us how to go about it. He told us to email [Head of School] John Palfrey and our teachers,” said Cummings.
After arriving at SamPhil’s steps at 8 in the morning, the protesters walked to the Memorial Bell Tower at 10:45 a.m., to honor all past Andover veterans and their family members. Students were then encouraged to write letters to the family members of these soldiers and to reflect on what Memorial Day meant to them. As students gathered to reflect on the importance of Memorial Day, a petition to have a set program to celebrate the day was passed around and was signed by 270 students.
At 8 p.m., 90 students gathered at the Memorial Bell Tower to salute those who have died in combat as part of an annual program organized by Reverend Anne Gardner, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life.
Inspired by the programming held at Andover annually on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK Day), Cummings, Reavis, Meyerrose and Nuga created an outline for potential Memorial Day programming. Their proposed program would include an All-School Meeting with a guest speaker in the morning and afternoon workshops. The latter would include making trips to veteran hospitals, having forums on injuries caused by military service, making care packages to those serving overseas, writing letters to soldiers’ families and making trips to cemeteries.
Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I think this day is a very personal day and one that each of us commemorates in our own ways. Some have lost relatives or friends in conflicts or wars. Others commemorate because the giving of one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice that very few of us opt to risk our lives for. I applaud the students who have taken a few minutes to educate themselves on the real meaning of the day.” Cummings, Johnson, Meyerrose and Reavis met with Murphy and David Guttierez ’15, Student Body Co-President, to discuss the future of Andover’s observance of Memorial Day.
Johnson said that the possibility of a Memorial Day planning committee was discussed in the meeting.
The protest leaders also plan to present a collection of personal reflections written by students to the administration to further demonstrate the need for a greater observance of the holiday.