Valor Day 2021

Vandegrift celebrates its 11th Valor Day virtually


Submitted by Drew Sanders

Sanders giving his speech at a Valor Day presentation 2016.

Kate Denning, Editor

Thousands of students watch as speakers and former friends of 1st Lt. Matthew Vandegrift come forward with anecdotes, important messages and hopes for the future. It is a day filled with memories, pride and tradition as students, teachers and community members pause to reflect on the school’s namesake.

Last Wednesday, an annual Viper tradition took place virtually. Valor Day, a day set aside each year on April 21, continued its purpose of remembering the admirable person that was Matthew Vandegrift, the school’s namesake, and the ultimate sacrifice he made on that day in 2008. Videos, photos and speakers, including Matthew’s brother, Barrett, his friends and fellow soldiers, Vandegrift alumni and members of its faculty, remind students of where their school got its name and its values of selflessness, kindness and respect.

“We were beginning to start the school, and we wanted a way to make sure that people didn’t forget Matthew Vandegrift and that Vandegrift just didn’t just become a word that nobody even knew what it meant,” head football coach Drew Sanders said. “And so that was the original intent: that we wanted people to know how special Matthew Vandegrift was and how important his sacrifice was for our country.”

Matthew Vandegrift’s connection to the school named after him is never too far away. Matthew Vandegrift grew up in Steiner Ranch and was a student at Leander High School before going to Texas A&M University, where he graduated with honors and joined the Marines.

“Not only was he in the Marines, but he was an amazing person by all accounts prior to doing that,” Sanders said. “He was a great leader, a great friend, and then of course he went to LISD schools, lived in the area that now services Vandegrift so there’s so many great connections. We want to make sure nobody misses that and make sure it’s relevant every year.”

Sanders and other speakers at the ceremony always stress the importance of remembering Matthew Vandegrift and who he was as a person. Sanders said that he has seen the values that Matthew Vandegrift had in his life carry over into what the school’s culture has become.

“I fully expect it because our kids are great and I know because I’ve done Valor Day for so many years,” Sanders said. “But it surprises people that are from out of state, or just not part of Vandegrift just what kind of culture we have here. It’s a very respectful culture, and all of our kids are amazing and understand what we are talking about on Valor Day.”

Matthew Vandegrift’s legacy also lives on in an award presented to one or two students from each organization at the school. The award, called Second to None, is named so after Matthew Vandegrift’s motto of the same phrase. It honors a student who embodies the respectful persona, gracious values and leadership qualities Matthew Vandegrift had.

“Valor Day is important to me because it’s something that validates what being Second to None means,” junior, captain of the swim team and Second to None recipient Sergio Pereira said. “It represents what our school stands for.”

Pereira said that when he received the award, he was very surprised and honored. The quotes that were read beforehand about Pereira detailed a person with all the respectable qualities of Matthew Vandegrift, and were written by Pereira’s fellow teammates.

“I was surprised more than anything,” Pereira said. “I had no clue that they were talking about me. It was a great sense of pride that that’s what my teammates think about me.”

Varsity teams and campus organizations vote on their Second to None recipient throughout the year and then all the recipients are recognized on Valor Day. The ceremony, which takes place on April 21 every year, was switched to being virtual this year, but has always been a popular, important and unifying event despite its format.

“Everybody is so respectful that you could hear a pin drop when the speakers are talking,” Sanders said. “And no one’s looking at their phones, everybody is just so amazingly into the event and they listen to when the band plays, they listen to the choir, they respect our guest speakers. So that’s what blows me away is we have guests that come and they just don’t believe that this is a high school and how amazing all the kids are.”

While freshmen would have watched the event virtually this year anyway due to the size of the gyms compared to the size of the student body, witnessing the event in person has many more physical characteristics that were not able to be showcased this year.

“You’d see Matthew Vandegrift’s sword sitting in front of the podium, you’d see all the second to none award winners and generally the band and choir and they’re all on the floor while our guests are in the stands,” Sanders said. “And a lot of board members and superintendents come because it’s just that special.”

The respectful culture created at Vandegrift has been noticed by many in the community including faculty members like Sanders who want the students he serves to know how grateful he is for their candor and kindness during Valor and year round.

“I’d like to get across the message to our current student body that they’re doing a great job, and we recognize that,” Sanders said. “It’s important to tell people that they’re doing a good job if they’re doing that. So I want to recognize our student body for being amazing and really being into every Valor Day that we’ve had since the school opened. It means a lot to us as teachers and faculty and community members.”