When she entered her multicultural literature and composition class for the first time, Laura Presley knew the eight member class had the opportunity to be “special.”
Class members Jacob Austin, Morgan Elmore, Lilly Fleming, London Hazuka, Amberly Lester, Ashley Mullins, Joey O’Dell, and Grayson O’Saile used the class to create a Holocaust memorial at Princeton’s Chuck Mathena Center Tuesday evening.
“We’re trying to educate the society more about the Holocaust,” Hazuka said. “We’ve always learned pretty much the same thing through out the years. And then I got involved in the multicultural literature class and we started reading different books. We went into different perspectives than what we are usually taught and people don’t usually get that.”
“I’m so proud of them,” Presley said Tuesday. “As a teacher, that’s success. They’re going to be successful in whatever they do. It takes a special class and I knew going in that they could be special.”
O’Saile, one of Princeton’s two valedictorians this year, added the class had organized the memorial on the National Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust. Speakers at the event included Princeton Mayor Patricia “Pat” Wilson, Kimberly Gross, a representative of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Mike Kessinger, and Gail Webb.
Wilson and Gross read proclamations marking the occasion before Kessinger told his father’s story.
Kessinger’s father was a member of the army that was captured by the Germans after a bombing run near Hamburg. Although, his father was not given that much to eat and was forcibly marched around the German countryside, it was nothing compared to what he witnessed at a concentration camp.
One of his fellow POWs remembered seeing a group of Eastern European Jews being marched around. When one of the Jews succumbed to the exhaustion, a German S.S. officer simply shot him on site. The body was then collected and placed behind the marchers.
Elmore recognized some of the veterans that served in World War II from Mercer County, leading Kessinger to encourage the students to visit the Those Who Served War Museum at Princeton’s Memorial Building.
Webb, a teacher at Bluefield Middle School, attended an educators’ workshop where she met and spoke to Holocaust survivors. Webb later wrote a book chronicling the lifestory of Irene Zisblatt, a Holocaust survivor, which she shared Tuesday.
“I want this to be about the kids,” Webb said before ceremony began. “They need to be recognized for what they’re doing.”
She added, “As I stand before you tonight, I want you to know that all of you are teachers. Perhaps that is not and will not be your chosen profession, but your words and actions serve to influence others.”
Princeton’s Center Stage Choir and JROTC Color Guard also performed during the memorial.
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