Jason Santora is looking down on Sachem High School North with a smile.
His alma mater unveiled the United States Armed Forces Dedication Garden Thursday afternoon in a courtyard at the Lake Ronkonkoma school.
Sgt. Santora, a U.S. Army Ranger, was killed April 23 during a joint military operation with Afghan forces at a compound in the Puli Alam district of Afghanistan.
His father Gary Santora and Aunt Theresa Santora were in attendance at the monument ceremony, as swarms of community pride swirled through North to honor their fallen son and others.
"It means a lot," Gary said. "I'm so grateful that they invited me here. He was a terrific kid and I'm so proud of him. He loved what he was doing."
Developed by the freshman class of 2013 and aided by assistant principal Kenneth Costa, the garden features a black square block that pours water from its top. It sits idle on a path made of stone. Bricks honoring all soldiers and veterans are plastered into the ground.
"It speaks so well of the Sachem community and particularly the freshman class that they would take times out of their busy lives as students to do something truly extraordinary," said New York State Sen. Brian Foley.
North principal John Dolan presented the Santora family with a flag to further honor Jason, who graduated from Sachem in 2003 and was scheduled to return home for good after his last deployment.
"He's truly a Sachem hero and hero of the world," said Sachem Superintendent Jim Nolan. "We are extremely proud of the members of our Sachem family, who spend a quick amount of time here with us, but then go on to bigger and better things. They use their time and talents in so many ways to make this world a better place.
"Certainly no students are we more proud of then the young men and women who go on and serve our country in such an honorable way."
"It's so important to have things like this, in places like this," Dolan added. "Jason will live on forever in this garden and in our hearts in this Sachem family."
Costa concluded the day's event by quoting President Theodore Roosevelt from a speech titled "Citizenship in a Republic," which was orated April 23, 1910, fitting 100 years earlier to the day Santora passed.
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood," he read, "who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause ... "