The Power of a Face

I am not good with names. After teaching for 30 years, names drift in and out. 

But faces I never forget.

This week, we are remembering 9/11 and the sacrifices that many have made over the last 20 years.

As part of this commemoration, the Hersey ARC was privileged to host the exhibit “Portrait of a Soldier.” The exhibit features the faces and names of all the service men and women from Illinois killed in action since 2001.

On Tuesday, we were in the ARC attaching the banners to the ceiling so that students and staff could view the exhibit prior to our “Meaning of Service” Assembly with Governor Quinn, Gold Star Families and First Responders on Friday.

And I saw a face. 

A face I hadn’t seen in years.

And there he was, in a beautiful hand-drawn picture. A face among hundreds.

And it hit me in the gut. 

Will Newgard was a student I had some twenty years ago. He was killed in action in Iraq on December 26, 2006. I think I knew that…but names are harder for me to visualize.

I saw a face. And it hit me in the gut.

It was Will’s smile that stood out. The artist Cameron Schilling captured the mischievous smile that was Will Newgard.

It was the kid I remembered.

Staring at me.

A face among hundreds.

And it hit me in the gut. 

And that is the power of this exhibit. Although hand drawn in graphite, these faces are real. 

They are a powerful reminder of the sacrifice made by hundreds of men and women over the last 20 years.

The exhibit began in 2004 when Cameron Schilling, then a student at Eastern Illinois University, drew a picture of his friend who had been killed in Iraq. He dedicated himself to draw the portrait of every service member from Illinois killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In 2004, Pat Quinn was Lt. Governor and discovered what Cameron was doing. Together, they created the "Portrait of a Soldier" exhibit. Today, it has the names and faces of over 300 people. 

Since its inception, the "Portrait of a Soldier" exhibit has traveled the state. It was at Hersey for several days.

Next, it is at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.  The library is hosting several events over the next week, including a discussion with the artists behind the faces.

A special thanks to Governor Quinn, his staff, the Gold Star Families and Salute, Inc. for bringing these faces to Hersey High School.

Without them, I wouldn't have truly seen Will Newgard.

But now, I will never forget.

To see the assembly with Governor Quinn, the Gold Star Families and First Responders, click here.



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