HENRYVILLE — Students in Henryville got a unique history lesson Wednesday, and became a part of history themselves.
Hundreds packed into the Henryville Junior/Senior High School for the dedication of the portion of Ind. 65 that runs through Clark County to be named the "Governor Jonathan Jennings Memorial Highway," after the Indiana's first governor.
The road naming comes after Indiana General Assembly legislation passed earlier in the year. Represented at the ceremony were the Indiana Department of Transportation, The Indiana Bicentennial Commission and the Indiana Historical Bureau.
Students cheered as Seniors Derrick Irish and Colten White carried a large sign through the gym, denoting the name of the new stretch of road before it was installed Wednesday. Harry Maginity, southeast media relations director for the Indiana Department of Transportation, as well as other state leaders, addressed the students.
“We are here to pay tribute to Indiana's first governor,” Maginity said. “This is a highway that runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great lakes, from Mobile, Alabama to Gary, Indiana.”
Through Chandler Lighty, director of the Indiana Historical Bureau, giving a brief history of Jennings and the path to statehood, and Maginity reading through the legislation, students were offered a fresh look at a man who helped shape the Hoosier state into what it is today.
A New Jersey-born lawyer, farmer and politician, Jennings also was president of the Indiana Constitutional Convention. He helped draft the state's first constitution, pushed toward statehood, anti-slavery and transportation development projects that would further the state's economy.
“It is fitting that Hoosiers remember this outstanding man in a special way,” Maginity read from the legislation.
The school was chosen due to its proximity to where the road sign would be posted, and to involve the students in a meaningful and outside-the-box learning experience.
“I think the group did a great job not only talking about why it is called Jonathan Jennings, but giving a little historical background,” Henryville principal Troy Albert said. “We do U.S. History in high school...[students] don't have Indiana history except for in fourth or fifth grade and after it's touched on.
“So this was a very important day to make sure we share that opportunity with them.”
Perry Hammock, executive director of the 2016 Indiana Bicentennial Commission, addressed the students on the significance of 2016 and how the thousands of projects to commemorate the state's birthday connect Hoosiers.
“We're tying to make sure we leave a legacy,” Hammock said. “The Bicentennial, it's all about you. It's 2016 and you are somewhere between 13 and 18. You're going to rock the 21st Century. The 21st Century belongs to you.”
He talked about some of the things that started through the innovation and invention of Hoosiers — the first power automobile, the first motion picture, the game Sudoku and the tabs on soda cans, for instance.
Hammock also told the students how a group of students at Purdue University created the technology involved in the Bicentennial Relay torch that will be carried more than 3,200 miles through the state in September and October.
“The torch was developed by students,” he said. “It's 30 inches tall, has cameras and WiFi, is on Indiana biofuel and weighs three and a half pounds. The technology in there is amazing, and it's all done by kids a little bit older than you.
“You're going to be the ones to develop things and invent things, and you've got a long history behind you," Hammock said. "The question really is, 'What will you invent? What will you do?'”