By Doug Hallett
Canada’s top soldier reflected on heroism and on rising to meet extraordinary circumstances while receiving the Lourdes National Leadership Award during the high school’s annual national flag ceremony on Thursday.
General Thomas Lawson, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, told a gymnasium full of Our Lady of Lourdes students that he grew up listening to his father’s stories of serving in World War Two.
“Few (of the stories) made him out to be heroic at all,” Lawson said. His father was just one of the “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” during that war.
When his father was in high school he didn’t foresee himself serving in a war, and when Lawson was in high school he didn’t foresee himself one day speaking at an event like the one at Lourdes, he said.
Lawson urged the students to think about what “being Canadian means to you” and about those who serve in Canada’s military. He also urged them to think about being prepared to potentially face extraordinary circumstances in their own futures that would call upon their leadership abilities.
Lawson, who was named to Canada’s top military post in August of 2012, said both of his grandfathers served in World War One, one in the trenches and one in the skies above Europe. Now, he said, he has two sons who are in Canada’s air force.
He noted the “powerful symbol” represented by McCrae House, the childhood home of Lt.-Col. John McCrae, the Guelph-born physician, soldier and poet who wrote In Flanders Fields before dying in World War One at the age of 45 on Jan. 28, 1918.
Doctoring to gruesomely injured soldiers, McCrae “faced the bloodiest side of perhaps the worst war in the history of our race,” Lawson said.
The flag that was hoisted outside the high school after Lawson’s talk once flew in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a place where Lawson said Canadian troops “provided security for nearly 30 million people” who live in that country over the past 12 years.
While at times Canadians have been “disinterested and oblivious to” Canada’s military, that’s thankfully not the case now, Lawson said during his talk.
Lawson is the third Chief of Defence Staff in Canada to receive Lourdes’ national leadership award. Gen. Rick Hillier and Gen. Walter Natynczyk got the award previously.
Lawson received the award because of his “longstanding commitment to protect our country and Canadian interests at home and abroad,” a Lourdes news release said.
Thursday’s event, which marked the 49th anniversary of the country’s maple leaf flag, happened at a time when the flag is being seen a lot at the Winter Olympics in Russia, noted Don Drone, director of education at the Wellington Catholic District School Board.
Drone told the students that the Canadian flag being shown at the Olympics represents identity, allegiance and “perhaps humility.”
Drone also noted that former Lourdes history teacher Joe Tersigni, who retired last June, returned to help organize the latest instalment of the Lourdes National Leadership Award. The awards program, which Tersigni founded in 1991, has brought leading Canadians to the school to talk and interact with students since then.
Drone called Tersigni “one of the best educators I’ve ever known” and thanked him for continuing in his retirement to “lead all of us in this celebration.”
The Guelph Fire Department was also part of Thursday’s event. A few firefighters were at the school to hoist a huge Canadian flag from the end of a firefighting apparatus extending from a fire truck beside the school.
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By Doug Hallett