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Blog: Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Convocation: Gift of a Juno Beach Sacrifice

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

It is the time of year in school districts when we see the joy of ceremony, and none is more special than convocation. However, last week was also the commemoration of a significant moment in our history: the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. I had the pleasure of speaking to the Robert Bateman graduating class of 2019 on June 7, the day after the world commemorated the sacrifice of thousands of Canadians soldiers on Juno Beach. It was quite an emotional swing: I was deeply moved by the manner in which Canada recognized our veterans at Juno Beach on Thursday, and was also gratified by the way our District honoured our graduates. However, as I reflected on the very touching commencement ceremonies, I could not help but think about the special privilege these students had to sit in the comforts of the Abbotsford Entertainment Centre, buoyed by the love of parents, siblings and teachers.

Compare that to the experience of storming Juno Beach in the face of heavy enemy fire, and the prospect of never making it home. I had the honour of visiting Normandy a few years ago to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. While surveying Juno beach I met a veteran, Mr. William Gunther, then 87 years old. He told me a harrowing story of running onto the beach amid rifle and mortar fire all around him and his friends. If you can believe it, he was only 17 years old at the time! He told me that numerous members of his regiment were killed that day right in front of him, but miraculously he made it. I asked him how he survived, and he hesitated for a long while, playing the images through his mind. As he looked over the beach, he quietly told me it was nothing more than luck and the grace of God that got him through.

I cannot help but wonder if our current graduates can even fathom what it must have been like to put your life on the line, and so far away from home. Based on what I learned about these grads, however, I felt they appreciated the special opportunity being afforded them. I know that they are thankful for the support of their immediate family, and also for the gift of life and opportunity they now enjoy as a consequence of the sacrifice of our veterans on a distant shore so many years ago.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.