REMEMBERING THE FALLEN FOR MEMORIAL DAY: 3 teachers recognize SH alumni in the military with signs underneath the American flag in their classrooms


Summer Sueki

The names of fallen alumni in the U.S. military are displayed on the white board where the American flag is in English teacher Scott Rosenkranz’s class in Room 185. Rosenkranz started memorializing these former SH students this school year.

Two red, white and blue 8.5-inch-wide-by-11-inch-high pieces of paper are taped near the whiteboard underneath the American flag in Rooms 55, 184 and 185.

Written in blue text are the names and graduating years of four fallen Sunny Hills alumni, with the edges reading “IN MEMORIAM” and “FALLEN LANCERS.”

Social science teacher Jeff Gordon started writing the names of the alumni in 2007, originally on notecards that he would place on the wall, although not very visible because of their size.

Now with the posters, Gordon mentions them at the start of the year, pointing to the papers taped onto his shelf in the corner of the room, which has grown into a regular activity over time. 

“It has been a classroom tradition for the past 16 years to honor our fallen Lancers during the Pledge of Allegiance,” Gordon said. “I want my students to know that heroes have walked these halls and have sat in our classrooms.”

Gordon said he was inspired after seeing how the SH community gathered to honor Shin Woo Kim in 2007 when arrangements were made for his hearse to go past the school, and when the SH community came together in memory of Christian San Nicolas in 2012. 

Social science teacher Jeff Gordon points to the names of the fallen U.S. soldiers, who also graduated from Sunny Hills, on the cards that he puts up near his U.S. flag in his classroom, Room 55. (Source: Accolade photographer Asaph Li)

After a conversation, Gordon inspired English 2 Honors and Theory of Knowledge teacher Scott Rosenkranz, who joined him in memorializing the students earlier this school year in the middle of the first semester, creating the posters that he now hangs in his class. 

However, Gordon and Rosenkranz are not the only ones with these posters, as Rosenkranz shared the idea with social science teacher Keith Nighswonger, who gave him another name to add to the list of fallen students. 

“I just thought it was a good idea,” Nighswonger said. “It’s a reminder to all the people who have given their lives for our country and the Lancers that have given their lives for our country.”

However, instead of telling the students about the posters, Nighswonger usually prefers to wait until a student asks, and that is when he talks about them.

“I find it cool, and it’s kind of interesting to see how much he still cares for the past students,” said junior Evangeline Bui, who is in Nighswonger’s third period Advanced Placement Psychology class.

All three teachers have a memorial in their rooms with four names listed: Class of 1986 Cornel Chao, Class of 1994 Dion Burmaz, Class of 2001 Shin Woo Kim and Class of 2009 Christian San Nicolas.

Although most students did not realize the purpose of the posters, they have come to appreciate the efforts of the teachers. 

“I just appreciate that Mr. Rosenkranz was open to talk about it and inform the students because I really do think it is important to remember those who have served in the military, Navy, Air Force, anything relating to service,” sophomore Serena Silva said. “It really shows how much he cares for students and how much he keeps track of what happens to them.”

Though no other teachers on campus have since followed suit with honoring the memory of fallen SH grades from the military, those who wish to celebrate Memorial Day Friday before the May 29 holiday can also visit the memorial built in 1991 to honor fallen SH servicemen at the base of the flagpole in the quad.

The on-campus memorial installed in 1991 at the base of the flagpole in the quad. to honor fallen SH military servicemen who died in action. (Source: <i>Accolade</i> photographer Asaph Li)

The project was completed after the death of Class of 1967 graduate Thomas Daniel Pizula in 1982. The concrete block features a plaque with the following engraving:

“Dedicated to our SHHS alumni who serve in the Armed Forces and to the memory of those who gave their lives in the service of our country. ”

At the top lies another plaque with the words, “Presented in memory of Thomas Daniel Pizula Class of 1967 by the Pizula family,” presented by the Pizula family.

With these different ways to remember the fallen, many of the students in the teachers’ classes plan to visit the memorials. 

“I’m definitely going to check out the memorial message,” senior Andrew Gonzalez said. “I’m also definitely going to pay closer attention to the teachers’ board and be on the lookout for more posters commemorating fallen Lancers.”

Hoping to bring a new perspective to students, Rosenkranz believes that including the memorial in the classroom will be the best way to do so.

“You know, there might be students in our school who one day would feel called to military service, and it could be any of our students,” he said. “My hope is that [the memorial] would add a deeper level of thinking for when we and why we stand for the flag salute.”