George Santayana once said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
On Saturday, Delaware fourth-graders showed that by remembering the past, they can secure the future for themselves and for their country.
More than 1,000 students from 22 schools across the state were recognized on Delaware Day, Dec. 7, for their efforts to study the U.S. Constitution and to explain Delaware's role in its creation and approval.
The awards were presented during the 12th annual Delaware Day Fourth-Grade Competition Ceremony, held before an audience of fellow students and family members at the Delaware Public Archives. Chief Deputy Secretary of State Rick Geisenberger and Public Archives Director Stephen Marz were on hand to do the honors.
The original, signed copy of Delaware's ratification document is housed in the Archives.
During the competition, students were encouraged to use a number of means to show their creativity by writing songs, performing skits, writing poems and creating original art for the project. They also were judged on how well they worked together in producing and presenting their work.
Overall winners were presented with the Signer Awards, which recognized the five Delaware delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Students from Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Dover took honors in the name of John Dickinson, a prosperous farmer whose home, Poplar Hall, is south of Dover Air Force Base.
In accepting the award for her school, fourth-grader Amari Williams-Benson said her group took to heart the Fifth Amendment, which says in part, no person shall "be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."
"We believe this was a good idea because it guarantees that a person will be treated fairly," Amari said. "Judges must use fair procedures when making a decision."
Booker T. Washington students backed up their work with a number of artistic creations, which were featured on the day's program booklet.
"It was fun looking at history and books online," Amari said afterward. "It was cool getting to draw up stuff on the Constitution."
"These awards mean the students have acquired quite a bit of knowledge of the Constitution and of Delaware's role in its writing and ratification," said Madeline Dunn, curator of education and a historian at the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
"They had to analyze, review and validate the conclusions they made in response to the questions they were given, and this shows they did it in a variety of ways."
Students from Bunker Hill Elementary School in Middletown earned an honorable mention award with their "Constitution Hoedown," which they performed for the audience.
In his remarks, Geisenberger said past generations have understood and fought for the ideas in the Constitution, a duty that now must be taken up by the current generation.
Page 2 of 2 - Geisenberger noted the framers of the Constitution − and Dr. Benjamin Franklin in particular − recognized the government they had created only would survive if the people understood it.
When leaving the Constitutional Convention, Geisenberger said Franklin was asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"
"A republic," replied the doctor, "If you can keep it."
What Franklin meant, Geisenberger said, was that it wasn't up to him or those who signed the Constitution to maintain the newly founded government, it was up to the people.
"That means it's up to you and to future generations to keep that promise," Geisenberger told the students.
"Franklin didn't know what it would take to protect this republic of ours. What I do know is that it's up to us − to you − to keep this republic of ours strong and vibrant."
Delaware became the first state to ratify the document on Dec. 7, 1787, a date memorialized on the state flag and, 80 years ago, with the creation of Delaware Day.
Geisenberger also read Gov. Jack Markell's proclamation of 2013's Delaware Day, echoing that of Gov. C. Douglass Buck in 1933. A copy of Buck's original Delaware Day announcement was on display for the students to study.
Other area schools that took part, and which received honorable mention certificates, were East Dover, North Dover and Sunnyside elementary schools and St. John's Lutheran School.