SALT LAKE CITY — Seven score and 10 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, which honored the men who fell fighting in the Civil War and proclaimed that a government of the people, by the people and for the people would not perish from the Earth.
On Tuesday, more than 100 students from American Preparatory Academy stood under rainy skies on the steps of the state Capitol and recited all 272 words of the address.
"They gave us Friday till Monday," said 12th-grader Elizabeth Medina. "They just told us, 'You're being selected, and we're going to do it on Tuesday."
Tuesday's event at the Capitol, as well as a similar recitation by Red Hills Middle School students in Richfield, marked the launch of a Constitution Day challenge for Utahns to memorize the Gettysburg Address by Nov. 19 — the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's iconic speech.
The memorization challenge, which has received the backing of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah State Office of Education, is a product of GettyReady, a nonprofit organization founded by John Adams of the Salt Lake City law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker, BYU Broadcasting Director Derek Marquis and Michael Dunn, chief marketing officer of Surefoot.
"We're really hopeful everyone will take on that challenge," Dunn said. "If you look at today's world, with the inequity and injustice, (the Gettysburg Address) is totally applicable. It's as applicable now as it was then."
Riley Martin, a fifth-grader at American Preparatory Academy, said she believes every Utah student should learn to recite the Gettysburg Address. She said it's important to remember the men who fought to secure the freedom of American citizens.
"His talk is still talked about now, and it's just really important," she said.
Medina said her favorite part of the address is the final section, which begins with, "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."
Carolyn Sharette, executive director of American Preparatory Academy, said the charter school incorporates memorization of the Gettysburg Address into its curriculum each year.
Sharette said the student body at the academy includes a large refugee population, and learning the address gives valuable insight into America's history. But she added that there's a value for all children and adults who study and reflect on the text.
"It gives them some context for the freedom they enjoy," Sharette said. "It helps them get some understanding of American history, what our country has come through, suffered through even, to have the freedom they came here for."
Students at American Preparatory Academy were given only a few days to memorize the address. Sharette said it might take parents a little longer, but being able to recite it in full is an achievable goal for anyone who tries.
"If they're willing and if they put forth effort," she said. "That's what our kids did, and that's the secret."
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