Five D.C.-Area Teens Awarded National Order of Merit
See more photos of this event on Flickr.
In an evening ceremony at the Embassy of France, five Washington-area teens were honored on December 17 for service to disadvantaged members of their community.
The students, all in high school at the Lycée Rochambeau, a French-speaking private establishment in the D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Md., received the Prix du Civisme Pour la Jeunesse, or the Youth Civic Spirit Prize, from the National Order of Merit.
The occasion marked a pair of firsts, both for its delivery in the U.S. and as the first time five awards were granted simultaneously to a single establishment.
The high-schoolers’ volunteering took place primarily at the Bethesda Cares center, an all-ages shelter and community center for the local underserved.
Nikolaï Biancheri, Paul-Julien Burg, Victoria Hunt, Owen Page and Nicolas Trad were recognized individually and given their awards: a certificate and a round, silver-colored medal issued by National Order of Merit’s U.S. chapter.
Olivier Serot-Alméras, the Consul General of Washington, provided the night’s opening remarks. "Civic-mindedness is something that is cultivated," he said, using the analogy of a garden. Each act of the kind shown by the five young people contributes to the health of the "great public garden" of our communities, he said.
Also present for the event was Louis Duvernois, a member of the French Senate and a representative for French citizens "established outside of France," as his official title states.
Mr. Duvernois described in patriotic terms the importance of work like that done by the decorated. "To be Republican," he said, referring to the French civic model, "is to be a good citizen."
He likewise highlighted the history of the award. "It’s one of only two national orders" of their kind, he explained, comparing it with the Legion of Honor, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte. The National Order of Merit was established in 1963 by General Charles de Gaulle.
"Between Napoléon and Gen. de Gaulle, we could do worse!," Mr. Duvernois said.
Mr. Burg, who led his service engagement with Mssrs. Page and Trad, reacted to the recognition with humility. "It’s an honor," he said, adding that "we didn’t do it to be recognized."
Jean-Luc Petit, a French citizen and longtime resident of the United States who helped found the organization’s U.S. chapter, also took a turn at the podium. "The Lycée Rochambeau presented applications [for the award] which strongly impressed the national committee," he said.
The National Order of Merit’s stated goals are to promote the prestige of the organization, reinforce solidarity among members, teach the "duty to remember" key moments of French history, maintain moral and civic values, and develop the spirit of citizenship and civic-mindedness among young people.