But last Friday, he changed his status.
“I didn’t really do anything to thank the veterans before and I thought with a speech I could show them how much I care,” Hernandez said following his comments. “I just wanted to commemorate the people who fought for us to be safe. It is really small, but I felt I had to say something.”
Mendive principal Scott Grange said Hernandez approached the morning of the annual Veteran’s Day luncheon, asking to read his thank you letter, and Grange was unable to turn him down given that Hernandez’s words were proof that the luncheon was accomplishing its goal.
“We wanted to make that real visceral connection that it wasn’t just any one student. It was the whole community who had parents or relatives who have served,” Grange said about beginning the program three years ago. “We wanted this to be more of a community connection and get the kids to understand that others have the same feelings of pride and maybe even hurt and loneliness.”
In the luncheon’s first year, 150 family members and students were served and the number jumped to more than 200 in years two and three, marking a tradition that students begin planning for on the first day of school, according to Leadership advisor and Mendive teacher Jaime Verdi. She said her students took the reins for Veteran’s Day this year after she challenged them to think of the luncheon on a macro level.
“I think sometimes the kids have a hard time showing that they do care and they do remember, and this just gives them an avenue to do that,” Verdi said. “They recognize and appreciate what these people have done and this is their platform for expressing that appreciation.
“Everyone wants to be in Leadership because it is fun and you get to be singled out, but we are trying to make it about everybody and that is what I am most proud of. The fact they have involved all of the students is fantastic. It is really our class of 1,050.”
The Mendive cafeteria was lively Friday afternoon as students served up catered food from True New York Pizza in Sparks, which gave the more than a $600 tab to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Mendive students who ditched the uniform for the day paid $1 to wear red, white and blue and those proceeds also went to the Wounded Warrior Fund.
Students showed their appreciation in compiled video clips, displaying their thanks and others read personal or famous poems for the families in attendance. Scott Maryott, who manages high school JROTC programs for Washoe County School District and also served in the military, said Friday that the Sparks community really embraces local veterans.
“It is a very humbling feeling when people come up to thank you, whether it is Veteran’s Day or any other day,” Maryott said. “This community is amazing when it comes to appreciation for our men and women who have served. They really appreciate veterans in northern Nevada and I think that is what makes us truly special.”
Maryott said he has been approached countless times by those currently serving in the military, former military personnel and citizens just looking to express thanks. Each time, he shakes those people’s hands he can’t help but push the glory to his fellow cadets.
“You can ask any vet and 99 percent of them will tell you that the people they served with were the real heroes,” Maryott said. “There has been a culture shift in America and veterans are really welcomed now as opposed to how they were treated after Vietnam. It is so great that our community welcomes them and I think it helps them transition and feel loved.”