For 14 years, North Colonie has upheld a tradition honoring veterans through its annual Veterans Day Celebration. The idea originated with Shaker High School Social Studies teacher Dan Weaver, and has continued to build through the years. This year’s guest speaker was Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris, a veteran of the war in Iraq.
Harris’ Humvee hit an IED while on patrol in February of 2007. In that blast he lost his ears, part of his nose, some fingers and over a third of the skin on his body. He also lost three of his best friends. What followed was an agonizing road to recovery, which began with nearly two months in a medically induced coma. Shaker High School senior, Will Hartl, says Harris’ presence in the district for the Veterans Day Celebration resonated with a lot of students. Hartl was instrumental in helping to bring Harris to North Colonie, inspired by his story after listening to him speak at a conference.
“It’s powerful because it makes it real,” said Hartl. “It’s not some story or video presentation we’re watching. He’s in the flesh, and makes you thankful and appreciate all of the people who join the military and give so much. It’s a good reality check for a lot of us.”
“It moves me because both of my grandfathers are veterans,” added junior Rachel Fowler. “I think it’s such a great opportunity to have him come here and speak.”
Harris also spent part of the day at the junior high school and led an evening program open to the community. Harris says he has been presenting since he was in bandages in 2007.
“I accidentally walked into a meeting while looking for my doctor’s office, and was immediately put on stage,” he said. “I now do 30-40 presentations a month. It seems to be a calling and I’m just answering that calling. It seems to be making a difference.”
During all of Harris’ student presentations at Shaker, a lot of hands went up when he asked if anyone has a veteran or an active duty service member in his or her family.
“That means a lot to me to deliver a message that other veterans may not be able to deliver,” he said. “I encourage patriotism and encourage these children to be involved in their community, even if not in uniform.”
The evening program was also well-attended, with a few hundred community members in the audience.
“I’ve watched it evolve and I’ve watched Dan Weaver every year, work harder and harder to bring to life the experiences of our veterans,” said Bob Pollaro, Shaker High School’s Social Studies Department Supervisor. “Having such a person as Shilo bring his message to the event adds an unprecedented level to the celebration.”
“It’s really important and wonderful that we can have someone who has lived patriotism through service to his country come here and exemplify why it’s important to be patriotic,” added Shaker High School Principal Richard Murphy. “A lot of our students have been touched directly and indirectly by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As they came up to Shilo to talk with him, you saw the effect he had on them.”
Dan Weaver works extensively with Shaker High School’s World of Difference club members on service opportunities throughout the year. He leads many fundraisers and collections for troops overseas and military families, and is currently working on the unveiling of the North Colonie Veterans Memorial outside of Shaker High School, which is tentatively scheduled for 2016. Click here to read about the progress.