Every year as the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks grows closer, Dan Vande Pol thinks a lot about a photo in his office.
It’s not just any photo. It’s one of the front of Bradenton Christian School, where Vande Pol is superintendent, and it’s signed by former President George W. Bush.
Bush signed “Best Wishes” and his name on Sept. 10, 2001, the day before the horrific tragedy shook the United States and entire world to its core. Much of the world remembers Bush in a classroom at Booker Elementary School in Sarasota on the day of the attacks.
Vande Pol’s predecessor, the late Dan van der Kooy, left the photo for him three years ago.
“The photo means a lot about the values and freedoms that we hold dear,” Vande Pol said. “We have the freedom in this country to have a Christian school, and obviously the terrorists are looking to take away our freedom, and it’s something that we hold dear and that we treasure.”
The photo also reminds him of the sacrifice of many to preserve those freedoms.
“We are grateful that our freedoms include having Christian schools and churches free from persecution,” he said. “God bless the USA.”
The photo with Bush’s autograph stems from a dare. According to Judy Barber, the school’s secondary secretary, the daughter of then-State Sen. John McKay had been talking about her father flying into Sarasota with President Bush on Air Force One. Barber said Meredith McKay, a high school student at the time, was also her teacher’s aide and set to serve Saturday detention after reaching her maximum amount of tardies.
“I told her ‘If you can get President Bush to autograph a picture of our school, I’ll take tardies off,’” Barber recalled. “So she doesn’t have to serve the Saturday detention.”
After speaking with the school’s superintendent and principal, it was a done deal.
“We got a picture of the school and we gave it to her,” Barber said. “On 9/11 that morning, she told me she said (to the president) ‘Can you help me stay out of Saturday detention? Will you autograph this?’ We got it the morning of 9/11.”
Barber admitted the photo makes her really sad when she thinks about it.
“That was such an amazing and exciting moment to turn into such tragedy so fast because, after that first period, Meredith is in my office crying because she’s scared because her dad is with President Bush,” Barber recalled. “She went from being so excited to being so scared, like everybody else, so fast.”