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Reflections from Bataan Memorial Death March

Six students, two staff members and I just returned from the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico. Robert Land Academy has been involved with this event for more than 10 years as a result of a relationship the Academy enjoys with General Jack Fox and the New Mexico National Guard.

The event, often hailed by regular marathon participants as one of the hardest they have taken part in, has become an opportunity for participants to prove something to themselves.  I know many of our students will take much pride in getting “another patch” on their uniform.  The Bataan badge is a symbol of accomplishment and certainly something to be proud of.

I have written before in this blog about why we do The Fall Exercise just five weeks after the start of a school year – building confidence, developing a growth mindset, and demonstrating to the students just what they’re capable of. Bataan is another one of those situations that requires students to overcome obstacles, push through difficulty, develop resilience and really learn something about themselves.

This year at one of the check points I met a lady from Washington State and I asked her why she was marching. Her answer was impactful, as she told me she was doing the march for two reasons. The first is that she had worked with service men and women as well as veterans and by marching she was honouring them. Her second reason was what really struck me. She shared with me that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was told that she had little chance to survive. She wanted to show she could beat cancer, by marching last year and this year in the honourary march. Next year she plans to complete the full march.

It is stories like this and seeing the “wounded warriors”, those veterans who complete the march with missing or prosthetic limbs or other injuries, that make me realize why we as a school participate in events like this.  To teach honour, to teach the value of resilience, to look to those who are role models and  in some small way try to be like them.

During our travel back to Niagara I spoke with the six students who took part in this year’s march. What I heard is that our students grasp the significance of this event; understand what it takes to complete the march; respect those veterans whom the march honours; and have learned a little something about themselves as well.

I am proud of our team, not only for completing the Bataan Memorial Death March but also for their conduct on the trip; for their respect of the New Mexico National Guard and General Fox; for their persistence and dedication in preparing for the march; and for their insights into both the reason for the march and their own abilities as well.

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