A crowd of children, parents and community members gathered on the front lawn of Anna Maria Elementary School Sept. 21 for an evening celebration of International Peace Day. The theme for the school’s 10th anniversary celebration was “light.”
The event also commemorated the 10-year-old peace pole and was a remembrance for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the event that precipitated the peace pole and subsequent celebrations.
The event this year had an unexpected climax when a fire balloon engaged in a cluster of trees above the crowd just moments after its release. With the balloon wavering in the breeze, and flames licking the air, kids screamed, some folks moved quickly away, others shook lower branches.
Eventually the balloon lifted away and “peace” returned to the crowd of celebrants.
Before the event kicked off, members of the Anna Maria Island Rotary Club lit the rows of luminaries, all decorated with images of peace by AME students.
Manatee High School cheerleaders led a procession of world flags to start the ceremony and AME alumnae Trina and Holly Rizzo, now in high school, sang the national anthem. A trio from the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra, including violinist Shawn Snider and cellists Lorraine English and Karolyn Silbaugh, accompanied the Rizzos.
The Island Rotarians partnered with AME 10 years ago after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and donated the International Peace Pole.
“The inclusion of AMICCO this year added a whole new layer of sophistication to the event,” said Melissa Williams, Rotary club president.
Past president Judy Rupp and husband Ed refurbished the wooden pole and Williams and husband Frank replaced the placards proclaiming “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in 12 languages.
The evening included several musical performances. Young bell ringers in the music program at Roser Memorial Community Church performed an original composition, and youth choir members from the church also performed. A rock band featuring AME students Jacob Castro and Abbey Achor on guitar and bass and AME coach Eric Boso on drums accompanied the student body in performing “We Got to Have Peace.”
The evening culminated with the lighting of fire balloons that were launched into the sky. Harrison said the flame retardant balloons are biodegradable and West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price suggested their use.
AME launched six balloons to represent six aspects of those affected the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Representatives from the WMFR, Holmes Beach Police Department, AME staff, parents, Island Rotarians and military veterans each released a balloon.
While most of the balloons sailed out over the Gulf, WMFR’s balloon got stuck in a palm tree.
“It was crazy for a bit,” said Harrison. “I was worried, but the tree did not catch fire. It was comical that it was the balloon representing the fire department that got stuck — and we’re not going to let the chief live it down.”
One final balloon was launched to close the ceremony. The seventh balloon was imprinted with the 9/11 memorial image and “We Will Not Forget,” and was released by Ramona and Charlie Schroeder in memory of their daughter Lorraine Antigua.
Antigua died in the attack on the World Trade Center, leaving behind her 11-year-old daughter.
During the final balloon launch, Lindsey Smith sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth” accompanied by the trio from AMICCO.
“It was so moving,” said Harrison. “We watched as that last balloon soared higher than the rest and finally disappeared out of sight.”
“The Rotary Club is pleased at how the students continue to carry on the message of peace,” said Williams.
And, Harrison noted that with this celebration a new addition has been made to the student pledge, to exhibit “Peace on the inside, peace on the outside and peace every day.”