Lowell High senior Daniela Deny was the main speaker at the school’s Veteran’s Day program this past Friday. Daniela spoke of her experience last summer in the Normandy Academy program which took her to New Orleans and then France last summer to learn about the invasion of Normandy. She kindly agreed to share her speech with our readers. Here it is:
I was among the first students to arrive at the hotel in New Orleans. Twelve students, from across the country, selected to take part in the first ever Normandy Academy program. I remember speaking to the Lowell High Alum for the first time. I could feel the warmth in his voice as he expressed to me how important it was for him to sponsor a Lowell High student to partake in this journey. Once that first conversation ended, something happened. Though I was still in the same room, with the same clothes, and same skin, I knew that my world would never be the same.
The point of the Normandy Academy program is to allow students to develop research skills, while simultaneously appreciating the work of the brave soldiers who fought in World War II. I went in a WWII enthusiast, and came out a world citizen. The whole trip was two weeks, of which we spent mostly in Normandy, and towards the end in Paris. Since I’ve been given 5 minutes, I will not be able to discuss all of the awesome details, but will gladly do so afterwards. I will, however, share my fondest memory. Before I begin, I must explain that the climax of the program is a day that is reserved for eulogies at the Normandy American Cemetery. The students chose a soldier from their home state that was buried in the cemetery, did research on them during the two days that we were in New Orleans, and then prepared a eulogy to deliver at the grave of the chosen soldier. I chose a soldier close to home – Frederick F. Fleming, First Lieutenant of the 743rd Tank Battalion. I hardly knew anything about him prior to the trip, but grew to know him more by the end. Frederick lived in Westborough, Massachusetts, completed 4 years of high school and became an actor. Because he was in the Tank Battalion, I was assigned to do a briefing on the Sherman Tank, and even got to sit inside one.
My favorite day was when we visited Omaha Beach. The day began with Pointe Du Hoc, where we took a lot of pictures and explored the cliff. As I walked through the terrain, I took note of the craters, hiding places, and tourists. I imagined the soldiers making their way up and walking across the same ground that I now stood upon. I imagined the soldiers fighting, breathing, and dying. I closed my eyes for a few moments, and when I opened my eyes, I felt it. It was as if the ground now leaked their stories, each one of them eager for me to discover it. I explored their stories as I made my way to the cliff, and when I arrived, I felt an unforgettable feeling. It was as if the cliff, beach, and air joined together and sang harmoniously to me, “Thank You.” The trip was no longer about getting to see cool sites, and bonding with students who had similar interest. The trip had turned into a mission. A mission to immortalize these soldiers’ stories, and to forever remind all people, of all nations, that education, through storytelling, is the best way to move this world forward. Life is about legacy, and in giving to the next generation we accomplish something very integral in ourselves. As you leave today, try and make it your mission to remember what the soldiers did for you, and think about what you can do with your life for generations to come. Education is a great way to start, and I challenge you to take it a step further and make an even bigger difference. What will you do to help immortalize their stories and honor their sacrifice? Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my experience.