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Veterans' Stories of the Past Shaped My Future
By Emma Suttell
Published July 26, 2019 
Arizona Republic

From the first time I had the honor to perform the National Anthem at a Veterans Heritage Project Book Reception and Ceremony, I knew the program was something special. I stood to the side and watched students circle the room, arms full to the brim with books waiting to be signed, chatting with veterans, and connecting beyond generational barriers. 

Veterans Heritage Project’s after-school character education program allows students like me to be immersed in one-on-one personal accounts of heroism and service directly from veterans, learning leadership skills and developing a passion for history, writing, and civics. The program also allows veterans to continue to serve by imparting their hard-earned wisdom. When my advisor asked me to take a leadership role in the program’s inaugural year at my own Boulder Creek High School, I jumped at the opportunity without a second thought. 

emma speaking
Throughout my freshman year, Veterans Heritage Project (VHP) provided me with a diverse array of challenges that I never expected; learning how to write veteran stories was one thing, but helping lead a group of students through publishing their own stories was another. Even as a student, I was given the opportunity to rise up and help educate my peers on past wars, encouraging my own personal progression in the process.

For the past two years, I have served as President of my local VHP chapter. The program has fueled my own journalistic passions and led me to places I never expected I would go. VHP is the key reason I am one of Arizona’s 18 Under 18 Award Recipients, joined in service projects, and acted as the student keynote speaker for Anthem’s Veterans Day Memorial Ceremony. 

To top it all off, the program and gracious Campbell Family have provided me with a scholarship to travel to Germany and Poland to better understand the impact and sacrifices of my World War II veterans. I am ecstatic to walk in their footsteps as I strive to understand just a small percentage of what they endured to secure my freedom.
Anthem Veterans Day
Even in an age when so many youths are enraptured by technology, VHP finds a way to intrigue students with the past and those who made the present possible. [Founder] Barbara Hatch’s innovative program continues to do more than encourage civic education and first-hand history – it raises the next generation of leaders, military supporters, and engaged citizens. 

As I approach my senior year, my time with Veterans Heritage Project is already beginning to feel bittersweet. Knowing that I will be leaving in less than a year is an odd feeling because Veterans Heritage Project has been a driving force not only in my high school career, but in my life. I am eternally grateful for this wonderful program that invested in me not only as a student, but as a leader, and as a person. 

Connecting with veterans, sharing their stories, and having the honor to be entrusted with some of their most precious memories is a blessing that I cannot put into words. There simply isn’t a sentiment strong enough to express the unimaginable opportunities that Veterans Heritage Project has given me throughout the years. Veterans Heritage Project is not only investing in the stories of our past, but in the people that will shape our future.

Emma is a blogger, feature writer, and student journalist from Phoenix, Arizona. She is a local magazine columnist, alumni of the Channel Kindness Team at Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, an Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholar, and a 2019 Medill Cherub at Northwestern University. You can find more of her work at