Veterans Day event spotlights ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip

Ella Sickles, a high school student from Midlakes, is shown hugging a fellow participant on the Soaring Valor trip.
Midlakes high school student Ella Sickles was among the Soaring Valor trip participants.

Josiane Amidon never got to ask her great-grandfathers about their military service in World War II. Her knowledge of the war has come from her high school teachers, her parents, and movies.

A recent trip provided insight none of those sources could offer. Josiane, a high school senior, went to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La. with a veteran who endured the war. She was among a group of over 100 Midlakes students, veterans and caretakers to make the expenses-paid trip with the Soaring Valor program.

“It opened my mind a lot more to what it was like to not only be in the war but also to be living during that time period with everything that was going on all over the world,” said Josiane.  “My veteran, Frank, told me that so many people he knew also went to war. It was on everyone’s mind; they wanted to support their country.”

Several of Josiane’s classmates and veterans who made the trip will share reflections at the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Finger Lakes Community College. The free, public event will be held in the Student Center Auditorium at the FLCC main campus, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua, at 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11. Visitors are encouraged to arrive early for parking; handicap spots are available in the lot closest to the main entrance.

“These students and their veteran travel companions have just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and we’re honored they will join our ceremony to share their experiences,” said Jennie Erdle, director of student life at FLCC. “This is truly a wonderful opportunity to bring our communities together and recognize our veterans.”

The Soaring Valor trip was made possible through a charitable effort by the Gary Sinise Foundation and American Airlines. Sinise played the role of Lt. Dan in the popular “Forrest Gump” movie. The actor started the foundation after meeting an American serviceman severely injured during a bomb blast in Iraq.

This event highlights one of FLCC’s primary values, interconnectedness: It brings together community members with diverse life perspectives for a common goal – to celebrate those who served.

The Midlakes trip began on Wednesday, Oct. 9 with a send-off celebration at the Greater Rochester International Airport. It featured a performance by 96-year-old Peter Dupre, a World War II veteran who has become famous for his harmonica playing. Officials from American Airlines, Honor Flight Rochester and the Soaring Valor program took part in the send-off.

“It was a great way to start our journey,” said Midlakes High School Principal Frank Bai-Rossi. “The trip was well-organized and the museum was a great, educational experience. The most impactful part for me, though, was to see the connections forged between our students and members of the “Greatest Generation.’ These are the lessons we can’t offer in the classroom.”

Bai-Rossi will share his reflections during the Veterans Day ceremony at FLCC along with roughly two dozen students and veterans. The event will begin with the song, “Waving Above,” composed by the late Robert Barbuto, a longtime adjunct instructor of music at FLCC and retired member of the West Point Band.

Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Sarah Whiffen will emcee. FLCC President Robert K. Nye, a retired Army colonel will give remarks. Lori Vail, assistant professor of humanities, will give the invocation and benediction and the Canandaigua American Legion Honor Guard will post and retire the colors. A dessert reception sponsored by the FLCC Student Corporation and the Office of Student Life follows the ceremony.

Related events

Other events are planned to honor veterans, including a discussion and book signing by “Taking Baghdad” author and alumnus Aaron Grant from 12:40 to 1:50 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14.  Free and open to all, it will be held in Stage 14 at the main campus.

Then, on Friday, Nov. 15, the College will host the third annual Armed Forces Formal Dinner and Dance in the main campus cafeteria. The event features music and a gourmet meal prepared by students in the culinary arts program; tickets are $15 for FLCC students, $20 for military veterans and those who are active duty or in the reserves, and $35 for all others. Tickets must be purchased in advance by calling the Office of Student Life at (585) 785-1264.

The Veterans Book Project, an exhibit of stories about war experiences, continues through Nov. 16 at the FLCC gallery, ArtSpace36, at 36 S. Main St. in downtown Canandaigua. Hours are 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

About 120 FLCC students have identified themselves to the college as members of the military or veterans. The college participates in Veterans Integration To Academic Leadership, or VITAL, a U.S. Veterans Administration program that partners with colleges to provide support for veterans and training for college employees.

For more information about veteran services at FLCC, contact Jennie Erdle, director of student life, at (585) 785-1263, or visit

Author: Lenore Friend

Lenore Friend is the community affairs director at FLCC and the college's liaison with Finger Lakes TV. Contact her at (585) 785-1623 or