Monday, May 10, 2010
As I sit here at my home office desk, I'm still scrambling for the adequate words to express what I've seen and experienced since departing for the Netherlands on April 30 for a fast-paced nine-day agenda of events commemorating the liberations of that kingdom by Canadian and other allied forces in May 1945. I was privileged to attend this tour courtesy of EF Educational Tours with several other media from across Ontario. Amazed to be able not only to witness these events with my own eyes and ears, but also able to add to this perception seeing and living it through the eyes of Canadian students.
I've never been prouder to be Canadian.
Our Second World War soldiers -- those still with us to this day and those in the thousands whose final resting place I stood in this past week -- did the heavy lifting during an almost year-long campaign moving northwards and west along the Rhine River delta to push back German forces from the Netherlands. Capitulation came on May 5 in Wageningen, at a hotel that still stands to this day. I stood metres away from that hotel on May 5, watching as a thankful, grateful, exuberant nation acknowledged not only the surviving veterans, but thousands of Canadian students. Canadian flags were everywhere you turned. Canadians of all ages were being serenaded by Dutch singing our national anthem and high-fiving them in the crowds. Children rushed every Canadian student, hands outstretched in thanks and seeking the many flags, pins and mementos Canadians brought with them to share.
This exuberance was powerfully contrasted by moments of sheer sadness and remembrance. Of watching Canadian students in tears, sobbing as they realized the cost to not only the gravestone in front of them but the hundreds (or thousands, depending on the site) of others around them. A generation that has only experienced conflict through random newspaper headlines and is perhaps detached from current wars and Canadian deaths on the other side of the world was overwhelmed by crashing into a nation that will never forget the cost of its liberation from an oppressive regime. Had capitulation not come in May 1945 the number of Dutch people dying from starvation would have skyrocketed and threatened the nation's very existence.
This was an education these students will never forget, one they would never have gotten in a classroom or on Canadian soil. Big, huge kudos to the teachers who signed up their schools -- 84 across Canada -- for this tour.
When I attempt to contrast these experiences against hearing -- locally and elsewhere -- of school board administrators who attempted or outright succeeded in denying requests from schools to attend these events... it saddens me even more today than it did prior to departure. For example, not one school from Toronto was in attendance. Schools from entire provinces were held back from attending for fear the trip would have a negative academic impact on students.
Though this was the last large-scale event involving veterans of the Second World War -- they're growing older unlike those who remained behind -- it's now up to youth to pick up the torch of remembrance as the younger generations in the Netherlands have unequivocally done.
The students I met were well-prepared and had worked for almost a year to ensure they didn't threaten their academic standing while gathering the knowledge they'd need to squeeze every possible moment out of this commemorative trip.
Our schools should enable this, not unduly stand in the way.