For the seniors at Byron High School in Byron, Minn., the 2019-2020 school year won’t end as they’d envisioned. In April the order came down that all of the state’s public schools would be closed for the rest of the academic year.
Normal senior-year activities and events were gone by the wayside, replaced by “virtual” possibilities.
But because of members of Byron American Legion Post 119, the graduating seniors have been honored publicly, for all of the community to see. More than 150 flags decorate the grass in front of the post, along with “GO BEARS” spelled out in large painted letters.
The display honors the 130 graduating seniors and first suggested by Post 119 Finance Officer Gordon Bishop after seeing a similar display on other high school’s baseball field as a way to recognize the school’s students.
“I said to myself, ‘We’ve got to do something like that over here,’” said Bishop, who then got the support of the post’s executive committee. Bishop and other members of Post 119 then spent 100-150 man hours experimenting with different sizes and heights of flags and different ways of displaying the flags and the letters.
The post ended up using 12"x"8 flags on two and a half foot poles. The letters were painted on 4’x8’ pieces of plywood, using the school colors of black and gold; Post 119 got assistance from the school’s art teachers in coming up with the style of letters.
Each flagpole has a waterproof label with a student’s name and another with a message that says “Go Bears.”
Bishop also ordered a large decal of a bear’s head in the image of the school’s mascot, as well as a banner with the message “CONGRATULATIONS & BEST WISHES 2020 BYRON SENIOR CLASS.” Each student will get to keep their flag following the virtual graduation ceremony.
“They’re losing their senior prom, and graduation … now it’s basically a virtual one,” Bishop said. “We wanted to cheer (the seniors) up somehow. That was the whole basis for this: to try to get the students and the school and the parents something to cheer them up a little bit.”
Bishop received help with the project from Post 119 Commander Carl DeWaard and Legionnaires Chuck Krueger, Troy Landsverk and Terry Severson. DeWaard said the display is another way the post supports local youth. “We try to sponsor them in any way, shape or form that we can because they are our future,” he said. “We just looking for some way … to help honor (the seniors) and help rally the community for the kids.”
Bishop said the goal is to make the display a yearly happening, replacing the flags with names of that year’s seniors on them.
Bishop said this year’s effort has resulted in thanks and praise on social media, and that there are cars parked at the display regularly, with students and parents looking at it, taking selfies and finding their name on a flag.
“We have supported the school in a number of other ways,” Bishop said. “
Byron Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joey Page thanked Post 119 publicly on Twitter, sharing photos of the display, and later said the post’s effort is an example of the character of its members.
“This national emergency has caused us, and especially our seniors, to miss out on being here with their friends,” Page said. “They have missed out on competing and cheering at academic and athletic events, school plays, band concerts, and so much more of what they have worked hard and waited for over the school year. To have the Byron American Legion Post 119 acknowledge our students is very special and exemplifies their creed of honor and service.”