BRADENTON -- Paul Beyers remembers being separated 13 years ago from his family -- he and his wife had their first newborn, a son, Max -- to serve his country after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Our family would not falter and neither would our country," Beyers said Friday, addressing the crowd at Rowlett Academy of Arts and Communication's annual Veterans Day celebration.
Beyers has two children now, his son, a seventh-grader and a former Rowlett student, and his daughter, Isabelle, a third-grader at Rowlett.
"You children here today, you are the future of the nation," Beyers told the students.
The annual celebration featured a number of acts by the students and staff at Rowlett, the district's newest charter school that converted from a magnet school in August.
The day started at 9 a.m. with a parade of veterans through the school's courtyard, featuring the school's drumline. The boys choir, the concert orchestra and staff members also performed to honor the veterans. The JROTC from Southeast High School presented the nation's flag.
Students were seated on the lawn, dressed in red, white and blue, and many of them donned arts and craft projects declaring "We Love America."
During the boys choir performance of "Child of Peace," fifth-grader Luke Wanca addressed the crowd, harking on a famous letter that John Adams sent to his wife, Abigail, where Adams talks about how he must study war so his sons can study mathematics and philosophy.
"Because you studied war, we at Rowlett can study music and art," Wanca told the gathered crowd.
The crowd of veterans, including at least three from World War II, was one of the event's biggest gatherings yet, said school principal Brian Flynn. The school also took time to honor some of their own, recognizing three staff members who are veterans and school families who are supporting active or former military members.
"We really want to thank you," said Meg Carlson, a third-grade teacher at Rowlett who organized this year's event. Many of the performances were based on this year's theme, "United We Stand; Divided We Fall."
Luke Wanca said it was awesome to see all the veterans come in and attend the parade.
"There's a lot in their eyes," he said. "It just amazes me."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.