WASHINGTON – Receiving an award from the president on her mother’s behalf was a bittersweet experience for Erica Lafferty.
The bitter part is that an award, no matter how prestigious, can never bring her mother back. The sweet part is that all of the national attention will make sure people always remember the great deeds of her mother, Sandy Hook Principal Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung.
“All of the honors don’t make anything easier,” she said. “But it is nice that the government and everyone else is realizing all of the good she did and all of the efforts those educators put into that school.”
Hochsprung was one of the six educators who died Dec. 14 while trying to protect students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty students also died in the school massacre, one of the worst in the world's history. Parents of students who survived the shooting have said that they believe many more may have perished without the heroic efforts of the educators, who have been credited with giving their lives in attempts to save their students.
Among them was Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist. Sherlach's daughter, Maura and son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, live in Deptford. Eric Schwartz is a regular freelancer for Patch, covering high-school sports in South Jersey.
'What the rest of us aspire to be'
President Barack Obama recognized that tremendous selflessness. He made sure the Sandy Hook educators were among the 18 chosen from 6,000 applications for the Presidential Citizens Medal.
The gold colored medal engraved with the Seal of the President of the United States has the names of the recipient engraved on the back. It is something that will undoubtedly be an heirloom to be cherished by the families of the recipients. But what it represents, that the recipients have performed exemplary deeds or services for the country and its citizens, is something that the families can carry with their name for generations.
It also puts the recipients in the same company as renowned Americans like Colin Powell, Bob Dole and lesser-known but equally important names like Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the south, as well as popular athletes and humanitarians Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali and Roberto Clemente.
Obama said Friday that the award is one of his favorite to give out because “it’s a moment when we get to recognize men and women who have gone above and beyond for their fellow citizens, often without fanfare, often without a lot of attention...”
“All of [you] are what the rest of us aspire to be,” he said.
That's true for Erica Lafferty, who said her mother is the kind of person she strives to be. “She always put others first,” Erica told Patch on Friday.
Obama said the people who are honored represent the values of America, where people look out for one another and “have each other’s backs, especially in times of challenge."
There are very few challenges more important than educating the children of the future. It's a challenge that Dawn Hochsprung, Victoria Soto, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rosseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy all embraced.
When the scariest of challenges approached them on the morning of Dec. 14, those brave women did what great American heroes do: They gave their lives for the children they called their own.
And that is worthy of the highest of honors, bittersweet as it may be.