The sky was gray, but spirits were sunny, Tuesday morning, as students, staff, teachers, parents, school-system officials and School Board members gathered to dedicate Liberty Middle School.
"What a wonderful day to celebrate an entire year of firsts," said Principal Audra Sydnor. "We're the first Fairfax County school to reflect its patriotism and recognition of 9/11 through its name. We had our first snowstorm, took our first SOLs, and soon we'll have our first, last day of school together."
The dedication ceremony, she said, gave her and all 1,136 students "an opportunity to show our appreciation for our new home." And county schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said he was both "proud and privileged" to be a part of it.
"For all of us, it has been a difficult two years," he said. "[This school] was named Liberty, in spite of the fact that the tradition seemed to be to name middle schools after famous authors and poets. But it was named when we were still feeling the effects of 9/11."
So it's no wonder then, said Domenech, that "the community saw fit to name it Liberty Middle School as a way of expressing our pride in our state, our county and what this wonderful United States stands for." Recalling how he first came to America from his native Cuba at age 9 and passed by "Lady Liberty in the New York Harbor," he noted the thousands of immigrants that the Statue of Liberty welcomes here, each year.
"The most precious gift this country has to offer us is an education, and that's what we have to offer here at Liberty and in Fairfax County," he said. "This is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the opening of a school that will start traditions focusing on [providing] a great education to those who will someday become the leaders of our nation." These students, said Domenech, will work "to maintain those values that are so important to all of us."
Eighth-grader Ximeng Wang said teachers at the new school "let us know they expected us to reach beyond the goals they'd set for us." And classmate Anthony Smith said the students "set a new future as we walked into the building. With the best equipment and good teachers, we had a chance to set the bar for the school — we were first."
Sydnor and Domenech cut the ribbon, and PTA president Jill Mullins presented a flag flown May 1 over the nation's capital in honor of the school. "Let no one forget that Liberty was named for those who lost their lives on 9/11," she said. "Those are the true heroes of liberty."