Andre Pearson gave credit where credit was due.
Pearson, the principal of Mission Viejo Elementary, acknowledged the school's extensive work with veterans from across the Aurora area during a special ceremony held at the building on Jan. 11. In addition to Mission Viejo's yearly Veteran's Day celebration held every November, which regularly features student tributes, school-wide activities and community receptions, the school boasts several immediate connections to the local military population.
That vast network and that considerable menu of tributes earned the school the status official Purple Heart School this week, a designation awarded by the local chapter of Military Order of the Purple Heart. Mission Viejo is the only school in Colorado to hold the title, and a diverse crowd of students, staff, dignitaries, parents and community members assembled in the school's gym to officially celebrate the designation.
Still, Pearson's words to the assembled crowd of weren't as much about the school's accomplishments as they were about the service members in uniform who sat among district officials, city council members and politicians.
"We appreciate what you do for us," Pearson said, directly addressing the veterans in attendance. "I want to thank you personally."
Pearson's words set the tone for the event on Jan. 11, which featured a performance from the Mission Viejo student choir, as well as words from Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull and JD Key, a representative from the office of Rep. Mike Coffman. The crowd included CCSD Board Members Karen Fisher and Dave Willman; Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan; Aurora City Council Members Francoise Bergan and Bob LeGare; and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. Military veterans posted the colors and played the National Anthem at the beginning of the ceremony, and a representative from a local raptor sanctuary brought along a bald eagle to help set a patriotic mood for the event.
Mission Viejo officially received the designation from the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization of military veterans who've received the Purple Heart for their wounds suffered in combat.
Even as Mission Viejo community members acknowledged the value of the school's designation, the real focus of the event remained squarely on the veterans. As students, staff and administrators celebrated the unveiling of a plaque officially celebrating the Purple Heart School status, Bull spoke of the sacrifices and commitment of every member of the military.
"Service – that's what this is about," Bull said, directly addressing the military members in the crowd. "I am honored to have you here, and I'm so appreciative."