By Melvin Mason
Austin King’s life after Southington High School will be focused on doing something important for his friends, neighbors and the United States.
“I love this country. I love my family and friends and all that,” said King, 17, who will join the Navy after graduating Friday, taking the first steps toward becoming an explosive ordinance destroyer. “I wanted to do something bigger than myself and ouldn’t think of a better place to go.”
The commitment by King and other Southington High seniors headed for the armed forces will be on display at commencement, courtesy of red, white and blue military cords he and nine other graduating seniors received Friday at a special luncheon hosted by Southington Public Schools.
The students received the cords and special military coins by members of the Board of Education and the Southington American Legion Post 72 before an audience of more than 120 people. They also received caps indicating the military branch they will enter. The families received blue star flags to show the pride they have for their children.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Erardi said the school district usually recognizes graduating seniors heading for the military at graduation, though this is the first time Southington has held a ceremony specifically for students bound for the armed forces.
“The Board of Education recognizes that these ten graduates will have a very different summer than the other 490,” Erardi said. “They’ve chosen to protect our freedom and chosen to risk their own lives to protect their freedom. I want each one of our graduates to know how respectful we are of their decision.”
Grace Jimenez, 17, whowill join the Army National Guard, is flattered the town would recognize her and her classmates before they leave for a life far removed from college. “I think it’s awesome that the community gathered to honor the graduates,” said Jimenez, who departs on July 22 to begin training in Fort Sill, Okla.
Heidi Woodbury, 18, was in military uniform at the luncheon, having already entered the Army National Guard before officially receiving her diploma. She’s already gone through basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. “I was very motivated and I just figured that’s I wanted to get started,” said Woodbury, who draws inspiration from her friend William Cugno, a 2-star general she met as a youngster. “This is what I wanted to do with my life.” Woodbury said.
Town Manager Gary Brumback, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, urged the students to appreciate the gifts that come with military life and thanked them for the choices they’ve made. “The honor of serving our country and our citizens is the highest in our land. Please take it seriously,” he said.
Seeing the students with the cords put a smile on the face of Steve Pintarich, a past commander of American Legion Post 72. “I hope they had as much enjoyment in their military career as I have,” he said.