Grads celebrated on Wall of Honor

Honorees, family, and friends gather after the ceremony. Front, from left, Melanie Zissopoulos, Joan Vallee, Judy Lebel, Ricky Albert, Nancy Rama, Phillip Sirois, and Michael Graziano. Back, Bob Brown, Timmy Vallee, and Paul Sirois.

Honorees, family, and friends gather after the ceremony. Front, from left, Melanie Zissopoulos, Joan Vallee, Judy Lebel, Ricky Albert, Nancy Rama, Phillip Sirois, and Michael Graziano. Back, Bob Brown, Timmy Vallee, and Paul Sirois. (Photo by Tammi Naudus)

By JOHN GORALSKI
EDITOR

On Monday, Dec. 7, honorees, family, and friends crowded into the entrance to the Southington High School auditorium to celebrate this year’s inductees onto the Southington High School Wall of Honor. The ninth induction class featured an artist, a Broadway producer, and a soldier that gave his life in Afghanistan.

Wall of Honor founder Bob Brown, a retired teacher and current Board of Education member, celebrated the trio for their success after graduation.

“Without a doubt, one of the greatest award that any teacher or town gets is to see former students go off and do wonderful things in the world,” said Brown. “This is why this is one of the most special activities that we do each year. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”

To be inducted onto the wall of honor, inductees must be Southington High School graduates that have been recognized for contributions in at least one of three categories: humanitarian work, community service, or lifetime achievement. People can also be nominated for being honored by significant awards.

“It seems that every time you turn around, there are negative comments everywhere: on TV, in print media, and in social media in general,” said Southington Superintendent of Schools Timothy Connellan. “To have something like this that’s so positive for our community is fantastic. I wish more people could be here for something like this.”

Sgt. Maj. Phillip R. Albert was honored posthumously. Dale Zarrella (Class of 1983) and Michael Graziano (Class of 1983) were also honored.

Albert was born in Southington and raised in Terryville, but he graduated from SHS as part of the Agriculture Science and Technology program (Vo-Ag). He joined the US Army after graduation and rose to the highest enlisted rank. He served as a drill sergeant and became an accomplished sniper.

Albert completed deployments in Africa, West Germany, Alaska, Georgia, Colorado and Texas, and he participated in the capture of Manuel Noriega. He earned the Purple Heart during three deployments to Afghanistan, and was killed in action in 2003 during a helicopter crash in the mountains of Afghanistan.

“We have a tradition that, if somebody graduated from our school and went off to fight for our country and was killed in conflict, we put them on the Wall of Honor,” said Brown. “We started with the Vietnam Conflict era. We did Afghanistan and Iraq, and we’ll eventually go back further to Korea and World War II.”

Zarrella has been well-known in town since the age of 17, when he sculpted the crucifix and the sculpture of the Holy Family at St. Dominic’s Church. After graduation, he moved to Hawaii and became a world renowned sculptor, painter, and master craftsman.

Zarrella’s sculptures and paintings have appeared in the finest corporate and private collections throughout the world. His most notable works include bronze sculptures of Saint Damien and Saint Marianne of Molokai at the Vatican, life-sized wooden replicas of both statues at the Memorial Museum in Honolulu, the mermaid dream sculpture, and wooden carvings of Hawaiian Royalty in Maui.

He did work for Pope Benedict and recently met with Pope Francis in Philadelphia. Outside of the art world, he became director of Hawaii’s few green turtle breeding projects. Somehow, he still finds time to visit his hometown to mentor local art students at the high school.

Graziano received a master’s degree in fine arts from Temple University in 1991 before making the move to Broadway and taking New York City by storm.

He was a volunteer since the start for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, the American theatre industry’s grass-roots response to the global AIDS crisis, and he has led the way with fundraising and staging of live events. Graziano worked his way up to a producing director, and the actors that he has worked with reads like a “Who’s Who” for Hollywood.

Michael Graziano displays his plaque during the ceremony. Graziano expressed his appreciation for his Southington schooling.

Michael Graziano displays his plaque during the ceremony. Graziano expressed his appreciation for his Southington schooling. (Photo by Tammi Naudus)

Along the way, he produced events at Yankee Stadium, Carnegie Hall, the Roseland Ballroom, the Hammerstein Ballroom, Times Square, Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre, the Palace Theatre, and the Minskoff Theatre. His efforts have raised over $150 million to support causes, including the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Sandy, while supporting women’s health issues, marriage equality, and arts programs for underserved youth.

Now a freelance event producer in New York, his current project is “Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids” starring Kristin Chenoweth, Tina Fey, Megan Hilty, and Rosie O’Donnell.

“It’s amazing to be back here,” Graziano told the crowd. “We didn’t have an auditorium here (when I attended). We didn’t have a lot of arts back then, but I was a class president. I always felt that, once I started doing what I did on Broadway, it was much like being the class president of Broadway. I used all those things I learned: how to manage people, how to get people to volunteer for you, and how to get people to believe in what they do for you. I really learned all of that here at Southington High School.”

Connellan said that this is what makes the Wall of Honor such an important event. “When you have someone like our last recipient talk about how he gained all the skills that he has and many of his characteristics by being a member of this community and a graduate of Southington High School, that’s very fulfilling,” he said.

Brown is now accepting nominations for next year’s class. Nominations can be sent to him at RBrown@SouthingtonSchools.org.

“I’m sure that everyone can think of somebody else that belongs on this wall. Please nominate them,” said Brown. “It’s a huge honor. When you look at these names, we have some terrific people on the wall. This town has produced some amazing people that have gone off and done amazing things.”

Photos by TAMMI NAUDUS

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