Two of the many lessons we teach our children are that they can do anything they set their minds to and to never give up. Despite years of waiting and a disheartening denial this past March, the children of the Aquinas Honor Society at the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates have proved those timeless lessons valid.
“I am so immensely proud right now,” eighth-grader and President of Aquinas Honor Society Anjali Deodat, 13, said. “We are all so happy and it makes me proud of all of us.”
On Oct. 8 at 11 a.m., the Aquinas Honor Society will unveil a bronze plaque honoring President George Washington’s stay in Jamaica 223 years ago, at a long-awaited ceremony at the Immaculate Conception School. The plaque, containing an 1840 engraving of the tavern at which Washington stayed the night and a page out of Washington’s diary regarding that evening, will later be placed on the exterior of the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building, the site where the tavern stood until 1906.
“At first, I had doubts that we would ever get the chance to put the plaque up,” seventh-grader and Vice President of the Aquinas Honor Society Ariel Narine, 12, said. “But I always kept my hopes up that this day would come.”
In 2011, the gifted group of students discovered a noteworthy fact during their research for their second book, “Images of America: Jamaica.” Washington, during a presidential tour of Long Island in 1790, spent the night at a tavern that once stood at the intersection of Jamaica Avenue and Parsons Boulevard, where the Addabbo federal building stands today.
Since their discovery, the students have been crafting a way to honor our first president’s night in the neighborhood. They came across other sites on Long Island that had markers denoting where Washington had stayed, and raised the money to purchase a plaque of their own. The youngsters wanted to hang the plaque on the exterior of the building but, in March, were denied by the General Service Administration because of a legal technicality. Finally, with the aid of Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and his staff, their day has arrived.
“I am very happy it was finally approved,” historian and moderator of the Aquinas Honor Society Carl Ballenas said. “We had some help from Jason Hilliard and the rest of Congressman Meeks’ office, as they were instrumental in being persistent in order for the plaque to be considered.”
A single night’s stay in a since-demolished tavern may seem inconsequential to some, but honoring one of the most important figures in American history means so much to both Ballenas and his students.
“It’s a great educational tool and it also tells the students that they’re able to do these kinds of things and never to give up,” Ballenas said. “It highlights the history of their community as it’s a very important piece of history that should not be forgotten.”
“We just want to show that the father of our country was there at one time,” Narine added. “I am going to be the happiest person there at the ceremony.”
Present at the unveiling ceremony will be representatives from the offices of both Congressman Meeks and Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing). In addition, state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) will be present, representing his late father, Joseph P. Addabbo, the 13-term congressman for whom the building that will bear the new plaque is named. A representative from the Jamaica chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution will also be at the ceremony.
The Aquinas Honor Society’s success does not stop with the students’ moral victory in their fight for the plaque, though. They will release their third book, “Images of America: Kew Gardens,” in 2014.