Veterans from all branches of service were greeted to a standing ovation as the honored guests of Tehachapi High School's 11th Annual Veterans Day Assembly held Friday in the school's gymnasium.
"It's honestly beautiful with all of us meeting here to honor the veterans," said sophomore Max Willard, who stood along with the other students as the veterans entered, in spite of his injured leg.
ASB President Mark Marquez addressed the student body concerning the purpose of the assembly.
"Every year for Veterans Day, we take a few moments to reflect on the sacrifices that others have made so we can enjoy the freedoms that we experience every day," Marquez said.
After the veterans took their seats center court, the U.S. Army presented the Colors, followed by the national anthem sung by student Rihana Medina.
Principal Scott Heitman introduced the 41 men and women veterans who attended, including one of Tehachapi's oldest veterans, Staff Sgt. John Grenek, D-Day Normandy, who received a second standing ovation.
The keynote speaker was Bakersfield native Jeremy Staat, who was drafted into the NFL and later enlisted into the Marine Corps and served in Iraq.
"This is my third gig today," said Staat, who is a professional speaker as well as a third generation veteran. "I have to say, by far, I'm a little overwhelmed by what your guys have done for our heroes right here in the middle of this gym. This is absolutely amazing. I'm not going to lie, I was a little bit choked up, but a middle-aged Marine does not cry in public."
Staat said one of the reasons he joined the Marine Corps was because he wanted to do something more with his life other than play professional football. At the age of 29, he enlisted as an infantry machine gunner.
Said Staat, "It was THE best decision I have ever made. To join the ranks of men and women, just like this, has been one of the biggest honors of my life."
Staat's message to the students was decide now, while they are young, what they want to do with the rest of their life, as their decision will forever determine their destinies. He encouraged the students to get an education.
"Because of all the things that I have accomplished in my life, is because of the sacrifices made by our World War II veterans, our Korean veterans, our Vietnam veterans," Statt said. "They are the blood stream that makes this country great ... they have paved the way for me to be able to do the things that I want to do in life."
Staat told the students, if nothing else, go forth and change the world and make it a better place.
Interim Superintendent Paul Kaminski reverberated the message by saying, "It's extremely important because the students need to know who defended our rights and the sacrifices that they made so they could have the freedoms that they enjoy."
The assembly included a fundraiser presentation given by Principal Heitman. Recently, the students held an Honor Flight fundraiser for veterans, raising $2,387.50. Accepting the donation on behalf of Honor Flight was Vietnam veteran and local resident Tom Stenson and his wife, Pam.
As is tradition, the veterans were treated to a slide show featuring historical photos and footage of past wars presented with patriotic music. The assembly concluded with Sgt. Richard Oldenburg (Korea, 1953-56), playing "Taps" with his bugle.