Veterans from different branches of the military joined South Aiken High School students and staff Friday for the school's annual Veterans Day celebration.

During the ceremony, Macey Bosley, one of the student body presidents, asked the veterans present to stand when their branch was announced. As they stood, the band played their branch's service song.

One notable community veteran made an appearance – City of Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh.

After he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, Cavanaugh served as an Air Force officer. Currently, he is an American Legion, Post 26 member and James L. Hammons Detachment #939 of the U.S. Marine Corps League honorary member.

“Today we are so thankful to have so many veterans with us. We want them to know we appreciate their service,” Cavanaugh said. “I've been very fortunate to be in a family where there were and still are several veterans.”

His dad served in the Army, his step-dad, the Navy, and his father-in-law and brother-in-law, the Air Force.

Cavanaugh was not only there to speak as a veteran but to present South Aiken senior and NJROTC supply officer Grace Thompson with the City of Aiken Character Proclamation. This award is given only every one or two years when someone shines with the “spirit of true character,” Cavanaugh said.

Thompson also received the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross from Col. Myron Harrington, Legion of Valor member and Marine veteran.

The award, one out of 40 given to high school cadets this school year, is awarded to high school and college students who have exceeded in their JROTC and ROTC programs.

“Grace is an exceptional student, a great leader,” said Cmdr. Larry Laughlin, the high school's senior naval science instructor. “She leads with tremendous positivity, enthusiasm and optimism.”

The whole NJROTC unit stood with pride as Thompson received her honor.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I actually turned to (my friend) Miranda because I didn't believe that they called my name. It was crazy.”

Her mother, Marguerite Thompson, deems her daughter as strong, motivated and dedicated.

In addition to the honors Friday, Grace received a four-year, Navy ROTC nursing scholarship to Auburn University.

“I'm so, so proud of her, and you can tell the whole unit was proud of her,” Miranda Housley said.

Students also got to contribute their writing and art skills by entering in an essay, poetry or art contest.

Junior and NJROTC member Hayley Neiling won the art category.

“There's a lot of people in my family who are veterans and part of the military, so it was kind of important to me,” she said. “Art is something that I'm good at. So I like to participate in that somehow.”

Mindy Pham won second place, Megan Swarthout third place, and Jillian Shanaham and Jada Albertson, honorable mention.

Sophomore Logan Murray won first place for his poem, “Forever Dedicated,” written for his grandfather who fought in World War II and his great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War.

“I just sat down, and it really just flowed,” he said. “(My family) thought it was really good. It was great to have them there for me.”

David Stoner won second place, Carley McClary, third place, and Casey Beckham honorable mention.,

Sophomore Elizabeth Grant won first place in the essay category for “The Home of The Free and The Brave.”

Both her sister and cousin are in the Air Force.

“It took me 30 minutes to write,” she said. “My cousin really liked it, and my sister just joined.”

Bailey Parker won second place, Sarah Przywara third place and Kyle Brown, honorable mention.

All first-place winners received a First Citizens Bank & Trust $25 gift card.

Students Will McAlhany and Chris Stuart lead the playing of the notable “Taps,” and four members of NJROTC Color Guard retired the colors.

“They do a fantastic job,” Skipper said. “The kids organize it. It's a good moment for us to feel proud about our young people, and they are the future and where we're headed in our country. So it's good for them to know the past so that they can move forward for our future.”