Students Organize Protest Against Classes on Memorial Day


Nearly 100 students skipped class today to sit on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall to protest the amount of recognition the school gives Memorial Day. (E.Kaufmann-LaDuc/The Phillipian)

On May 25, 2015, at 8 a.m., dozens of students sat on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall in protest of the school’s continuance of classes on Memorial Day. Students skipped their classes – an act of protest that models Brian Gittens’s ’89 approach to Andover’s lack of recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Just as students did this morning, Gittens occupied the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall; he also played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches for passing students, faculty and staff to hear. As a result of Gittens’s efforts, Andover now extensively recognizes and celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Four members of Flagg House, Keegan Cummings ’17, Henry Meyerrose ’17, Will Nuga ’17 and Andrew Reavis ’17 decided to stage the sit-in while talking in their dorm about, what they felt was, a lack of sufficient recognition of Memorial Day by the school.

Currently the school does recognize Memorial Day in the form of commemorative snacks at lunch, American flags placed around campus, the playing of taps from the Bell Tower. The school also provides name-tags, each of which have the name of one of the 244 Andover alumni who were killed in action, for students to wear for the day.

The protest garnered significant traction throughout the day, with more and more students joining the original protesters by the hour. A Reddit post about the protest netted over 2700 “upvotes” and over 400 comments.

At 11:25 p.m. on the day of the protest, John Palfrey, Head of School, addressed the protest in a school-wide email, which contained three points of interest: the school’s current recognition of Memorial Day, civil disobedience and the right to free expression. Palfrey wrote, “First, and most immediately, we celebrate Memorial Day at Phillips Academy in several ways each year out of deep and enduring respect for those who gave their lives in service to the United States.  Each year, Rev. Gardner and a group of our colleagues work hard to come up with a range of ways to mark this day.  This year’s observance included the placement of images of 244 pairs of combat boots beside the Memorial Bell Tower; distribution of name badges of graduates who gave their lives in service; the playing of taps at 8:00 pm at the Bell Tower; and the flying of flags in the customary fashion.  We also have an extremely involved and creative group of alumni, called Andover in the Military, who coordinate the largest and most active of our school’s affinity groups.  It is through their good works that we host events throughout the year to honor service to the United States.  I am grateful to Rev. Gardner and those staff and volunteers who devote themselves to these annual remembrances.  I encourage all students interested in how we honor our veterans and those who died in service to work with Rev. Gardner, Jenny Savino in the Office of Alumni Engagement, and our alumni to make our programs as inclusive, as reflective, and as rich as we can.”

Palfrey continued, “Whether or not one agrees with those who gathered on the steps of Sam Phil and the way that they did so — I have heard from students who supported the protest and those who found it disrespectful — we must acknowledge the importance of this mode of expression.  That is not to say that civil disobedience does not come with consequences; it can and, often, it does.  But a strong democracy and a strong community must be able to withstand public displays of dissent.  We have not always honored this right as we should have in our history (those who saw the movie ‘Selma’ recently know what I mean).  This legacy is one of the most important things that more than one million veterans have died for throughout United States history.”

His final point addressed the students’ right to free expression: “The First Amendment also makes clear that Congress shall pass no law ‘abridging the freedom of speech.’  The right to free expression is not absolute in the United States, but it is extremely strong.  This right is central to the principles of this republic, from its earliest days, and for which many have fought.  Within our student body and among and between adults, there can be, and must be, respectful disagreement — as there is on the very topic of how to mark Memorial Day appropriately.  There is respectful disagreement, too, as to the justice of many, if not all, of the wars in which the United States has engaged; there is disagreement as to just about every aspect of United States history.  (That is part of what makes it so much fun and so challenging to teach and to study!)  For my own part, I consider myself deeply fortunate that we all live in a place and a time where we can respectfully disagree with one another, even as we live together in an intellectual community.  I am grateful to all those who have had a hand in ensuring that is so.”

The following are selected Tweets and responses to the protest:


Emma Kelley was one of the protesters at today’s Memorial Day sit-in. (E.Kaufmann-LaDuc/The Phillipian)

Reavis, when asked about what prompted the event:

“I just felt like especially last year, there was a serious lack of acknowledgement of this holiday overall. Actually Mrs. Faulk and Mr. Murphy came to talk to us and they expressed concern that we didn’t have a dialogue within before we did this. They were concerned that we were protesting a non-answer kind of thing and I understand that and why they are concerned by that but as a faculty they made a choice not to acknowledge it. So by protesting, we are showing as a student body that we think something should be done for it.”

Nuga, when asked about the planning process:

“The planning process included just first starting on Facebook, on our Class of 2017 page and getting everyone aware of how wrong the lack of recognition is in the first place. From there, we just got a lot of support from members in the class and they suggested that we go out to members in different classes and that’s how it started.”

Reavis, when asked about how the community responded to the protest:

“I have [emailed my teachers] and [the response] was kind of a mix. Some of my teachers were really pleased that we were doing it and were happy. Others were hesitant to answer for or against, and they were more inquisitive about it. And that was okay. I can understand why they might have questions about it. A lot of them are upset because they had to push back their tests.”


“We just thought that there was a better way to honor our fallen troops other than going to class, and considering [Memorial Day] is a national holiday, we felt we had to do something about it.”

Meyerrose, addressing the crowd about Americanism at protest:

“We are awfully heavy on patriotic apparel here, and that’s a great thing, but…this protest is about the memory and commemorating every [soldier] who has passed for something greater than themselves.”

Megan Gatton ’17, one of the protesters:

“Some people didn’t go about the protest in the most respectful way and gave it a little bit of a bad [reputation], but overall, it’s a very good cause.”


Several students and alumni, however, were not as welcoming to the idea of the protest:

The debate continued on Twitter among students and alumni:


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