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Amory High School band students perform in Washington, D.C.

I had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. last week as a chaperone with the Amory High School band for its performance at the World War II Memorial on Independence Avenue. I will admit, the real reason I signed up to be a chaperone was not because I wanted to look after a bunch of high school students for four days. It wasn’t even to see the band perform in that beautiful space dedicated to our WWII veterans. I just always wanted to go to our nation’s capital. I knew there would be some sacrifices.

For example, our transportation was a charter bus on a 13-hour ride where, upon arrival, we were deposited straight into the first day’s tour instead of going to the hotel to freshen up first. Now I knew this beforehand because it was on the itinerary, but I was not prepared for the reality of riding that long, changing in a gas station bathroom, then walking around a cold, rainy city all day on two hours sleep. We’ll just call it a cleansing experience.

We had the opportunity to go to both the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. In these places, I saw how our nation was created, both good and bad, along with milestones in American history. Being able to see posters and wagons used to promote the suffrage movement left me humbled and, while we still have a way to go, I am grateful for the women and men who fought so hard for me, my daughter, and your daughter or mother to have our voting rights.

The next day I was even more humbled at the memorials dedicated to those who’ve fought and died for us along the way as this great country was created, shaped and revised – a grand experiment that I hope is still evolving. If you ever wonder what dedication and love is, go watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or look at the care put into some of the tombstones at Arlington. It’s so easy for me to get focused on the minute and mundane details of life, and I was reminded of just how sublime humanity can be when the purpose is pure.

Toward the end of the second day was the AHS performance. Again, I’m ashamed to admit this was not my main motivation for signing up as a chaperone. In fact, I really knew nothing about it at all other than they were playing. The huge charter buses pulled up, and the kids went out and unloaded their equipment and uniforms, then they put their uniforms on over their clothes in the middle of a grassy knoll and started practicing for the performance. As the kids were practicing, people started gathering around them, completely in awe of an American high school marching band. They were taking selfies and videos and were so excited. As our kids saw this, they also became excited. Guys, our bands do not get nearly enough credit for all they create.

The momentum and the crowd followed them to the memorial, and the students did a great job. It was sort of a pop-up show, right there in Washington, D.C., by your community’s children, and it was by far the best part of the whole trip.

The last leg of the trip involved spending more than eight hours at Six Flags before another never-ending bus ride back home. Again, it was a cleansing experience, but well worth it. It’s easy to forget how amazing humanity can be, whether it’s forging a new country or playing a piece of music. Many thanks to the AHS band and instructors for helping me remember.

Emily Paul is the general manager of the Monroe Journal. She can be reached at emily.tubb@journalinc.com.

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