Dec. 8, 2009
WASHINGTON - It can be difficult to identify a life changing moment in real time. Senior linebacker Jon Cassidy (Alton Bay, N.H./St. John's Prep[Mass.]) had no problem, during his sophomore year, as he and 20 of his teammates and coaches stood at Arlington National Cemetery to take part in Wreaths Across America Campaign.
It's been three years since Cassidy got involved in the program which began in 1992 and has spread nationwide from its beginnings in Harrington, Maine. The organization accepts donations to place over 150,000 wreaths atop the headstones of the United States' fallen heroes at Arlington, as well as cemeteries across the country each year. Cassidy is more than happy to be a part of the process, organizing teammates and classmates alike who will meet in front of Leo O'Donovan's Dining Hall at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday, December 12 to catch the shuttle to Rosslyn before heading to Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteers are still needed.
"The first year we did it, it was a spur of the moment thing," Cassidy said. "My Mom saw a special about the people who started it in Maine and said it was something we should do. When we went the first time everyone was blown away by the experience, just looking at how many graves there were and how it looked once the wreaths were laid. It was one of those humbling experiences because you're looking at the grave of a kid, who's younger than you, who had just given his life."
But after the first year, the participants were passionate about the cause, much the same way Morrill Worcester, the innovator of the campaign, had been when he first saw Arlington National Cemetery at 12-years old. As the story goes, Worcester, won a trip to Washington, D.C. and saw the cemetery as a child, a moment that he carried with him. Later on, in 1992 when his Worcester Wreath Company had an excess of wreaths near the end of the holiday season, plans were made to place them at in an older section of Arlington National Cemetery, as a way of honoring the Nation's Veterans. It has become a tradition that has grown into a national phenomenon thanks to volunteers like Jon Cassidy and his teammates.
"This has become such a national event," Cassidy said of the effort that takes place in all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. "It started with a little company in Maine and with all of the hard work the Worcester Wreath Company put into it, it's great that so many people have caught on and that we're able to do our part."
The program's message is simple, but meaningful: remember - honor - and teach. In the program's mission statement it explains "We know freedom isn't free, but for the many sacrifices of our Veterans and their families we hope you will join us in expressing our appreciation."
In previous years, Wreaths Across America has come at a busy time for students, who are in the midst of preparing for final exams. But as Cassidy has explained, the sacrifice of a few hours of studying is no where near what the people being honored have given. He has seen many of his friends come to realize the same thing.
"You see an absolute change," Cassidy said. "Some kids have finals later in the day and they're so nervous about it, but when they get there you can see an immediate change of face and a show of absolute respect."
Though not having to compete with final exams in 2009 is certainly a welcome change for Cassidy, who expects participation to be high in his final year as a Georgetown student.
"What's lucky this year is it doesn't fall on a finals day," Cassidy continued. "In previous years I was scratching and clawing for people to come. This year, we started a Facebook page yesterday and ten people are already confirmed and over 300 have been invited."
Even in his senior year, Cassidy does not anticipate this being the end of his involvement in the program, hoping to be at Arlington National Cemetery for the special day no matter where life takes him from the Hilltop. More importantly though, Cassidy has seen a new generation begin to take pride in the campaign.
"My brother is only 13, but he has already raised over $1,000 for the Wreaths Across America campaign through the newspapers at home," Cassidy commented.
The program has expanded in any other ways in the campus community. While student-athletes made up a large part of the participating Georgetown students in the first year, word of mouth has attracted many others to find ways to get involved.
"In the past we have only done it as Georgetown student athletes. But this year I got a lot of comments from friends of mine outside of athletics that asked, "can I do it?" Cassidy said.
There is no registration necessary for people who would like to be involved in Wreaths Across America on Saturday, December 12. For those on campus interested in participating, a shuttle will be leaving from in front of Leo O'Donovan's Dining Hall at 6:15 a.m. for Rosslyn, where they will take the Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. Wreaths cost $15 with the objective of placing 15,000 wreaths atop headstones.
For more information to get involved please contact: Jon Cassidy at JMC265@Georgetown.edu.