By Gabrielle Gasser
BIG SKY – As a veteran marine, Matt Bakken has fought in the global war on terror. But when the former Lone Peak High School teacher and football coach stepped onto the stage in the Bough-Dolan Athletic Complex, he admitted he was more nervous about public speaking than he was heading into combat.
At the request of the LPHS Student Council, Bakken headlined the school’s 2021 Veterans Day Assembly as the Guest of Honor. On the snowy afternoon of Nov. 11, Veterans Day, students and staff gathered in the bleachers and veterans from the Big Sky community sat in a place of honor by the stage.
Big Sky School District Superintendent Dustin Shipman opened the event followed by the singing of the national anthem and an address by master of ceremonies LPHS junior Owen Gitchell. Other program highlights included a recitation of the preamble to the United States Constitution by the Ophir Elementary third-grade class, a flag-folding ceremony, Bakken’s speech and a roll call for five of the six branches of the U.S. military represented by the veterans in attendance.
After working through his jitters, Bakken gave a powerful and emotional speech in which he shared stories of losing a comrade, providing security for the first-ever free election in Iraq and meeting a fellow veteran who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima.
He also presented three ways that U.S. citizens can show appreciation to veterans: offer them thanks, get involved with veteran causes and exercise the freedoms that veterans fought for.
“Don’t take for granted the freedom to choose your career, to go to school, to vote in every election and to speak your mind without fear,” Bakken said in his speech.
When he got the call from Shipman asking him to be the speaker for the assembly, Bakken said he was honored that his former students had thought of him.
“I think it’s important so that we don’t forget the veterans and the sacrifices that they’ve made throughout the course of our history,” Bakken said, reflecting after the assembly on the importance of Veterans Day. “It’s great to see that the students have a lot of ownership, they get to have a say in who they want to have as speaker and that they pretty much run the assembly. I think having ownership allows them to have a little more pride in their country as well as the veterans that served our community.”
Student Council President Luke Kirchmayr helped plan the assembly and gave a short speech on the significance of Veterans Day as part of the assembly’s program.
“I think it’s important because nowadays it’s really easy for people to forget … the people who served and [who have] sacrificed for our country,” Kirchmayr said to EBS after the assembly. “I think [the assembly is] a great way that we can bring that to light, especially with local veterans, for our community. We can highlight the sacrifices that they’ve made to ensure our freedom.”
To end his speech, Bakken encouraged all in attendance to honor the millions of people who have served in the U.S. military.
“Our veterans stand ready to fight and die for our freedom,” he said. “May we all strive to be worth the sacrifice.”