HAZLET – A heartfelt tribute to veterans was underway Friday at Raritan High School’s auditorium, and it didn’t involve speeches or a round of applause.
For the fourth year, Raritan invited 12 veterans to come into the school so students could record their stories for the Veterans Portrait Project. Among them was Col. Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam veteran who lives in New Jersey.
A team of AP Language scholars sat with the guests, listening attentively to their memories and nodding to their advice as they took notes. Up on stage, a digital photography crew took thoughtful portraits of the veterans with assistance from the New York Film Academy.
In about two weeks, there will be an exhibit in the high school lobby where the matted photographs will be displayed alongside the written biographies.
Michael Porpora, 23, of Hazlet was among those interviewed on May 31. A 2014 graduate of Raritan High School, Porpora was stationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and served three years. “I did jumps in California, Texas, Louisiana – those are all pre-deployment trainings – but I was never deployed overseas,” he said. He left the service for medical reasons and now works for PSE&G.
He enjoyed the experience of being interviewed by his students at his alma mater, he said, and felt appreciated. “It was almost like venting, too,” he said. “It felt great.”
“They wanted to know how I reacted to the day-to-day, the experiences I went through, and basically what went on in my head,” said Porpora.
He told them what real military life is like. “Once you really want to go into the armed forces, it’s not all jokes. It’s serious when you have to be,” he explained to them. “Sometimes you really have to push yourself to the limits.”
Raritan’s Teresa Genarelli, a photography instructor, and Rosemary Wilkinson, a former sociology teacher who retired in 2015, helped organize the day. The idea was inspired by combat photographer Stacy Pearsall’s portraits of veterans. Pearsall has flown in to lead the program in previous years but was unable to attend this time.
As she observed the students engaging with their subjects, Wilkinson said it was great they got this opportunity to be documentarians. But the day is much more than that.
“The most important thing is that we are honoring the veterans,” said Wilkinson. “For all of us here to thank these veterans.”