By JEN CARDINES
There weren’t enough chairs to accommodate the growing crowd at the Southington High School (SHS) Wall of Honor ceremony on Oct. 24, which celebrated a decade of honoring the school’s alumni.
Former SHS history teacher and current Board of Education (BOE) member Bob Brown started the wall 10 years ago with the intent to recognize former SHS students that have made a significant impact on their communities. The annual ceremony held outside of the SHS auditorium honored six new inductees.
Each year, nominees are selected to receive a place on the Wall of Honor where they are recognized for one of the following categories: Lifetime achievement, community service, major career accomplishments, and humanitarian work.
“There are two cases that are special,” said Brown, referring to Clement Dupuis and William Beard who left high school in 1968 to serve during the Vietnam War and never returned home. “The state allowed us, and the BOE voted, to give high school diplomas to Clement and William,” Brown said.
BOE member Dave Derynoski went to school with Dupuis and Beard, so he presented their families with the diplomas at the ceremony.
Inductees must be SHS graduates, but this year the committee decided to make exceptions for servicemen that left school to serve the country. Next year’s honorees will include the other Southington natives that lost their lives in battle.
Following the fallen soldiers, Andrew Gutauskas, class of 2000, was honored for his career awards and performances as a musician. After graduating from SHS and Juilliard, he appeared on various musical albums, talk shows, and radio stations.
Gutauskas is the first musician on the wall, and is currently a New York City based saxophonist.
The Wall of Honor committee then selected two women who have excelled in their careers following their SHS graduation as Valedictorians. Kathleen Hopko, class of 1978, held a distinguished 30-year career as an attorney for United Technologies Corporation (UTC). She also served as UTC Vice President, Secretary, and Associate General Counsel. She is currently UTC’s Vice President and managing attorney.
Alexandra Smith, class of 1999 and Miss Southington 2001, holds an extensive medical background in pediatric and neonatal care. She received many awards in her career, and served communities in Nigeria and Uganda. Smith currently works at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston as a pediatric doctor.
Philip Thibodeau graduated as Valedictorian in 1989 and went on to study Classics at Yale and Brown.
After receiving his PhD in 1999, he became a professor of Classics. Thibodeau taught at the University of Georgia, DePauw University, and currently teaches at Brooklyn College. In his career he published two books and more than 20 scholarly articles.
Brown coordinates the event each year with the help of his committee, but they are hoping to expand the wall. Plans to file for a non-profit license are being drawn up so that funds can be raised.
The high school does not pay for the plaques or the maintenance of the wall, and with expansion plans they need the funding. Brown hopes to see a mobile wall that is placed in businesses around town, as well as TV screens in the high school that showcase the years of recipients.
“I’m so proud to have taught in this town and know these people,” Brown said.
Superintendent Timothy Connellan said that the committee has great ideas to expand, and that he’s glad to see the passion that goes into the wall. “Too often we hear about the negatives going on,” said Connellan. “Now we can see all of these positives.”
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI (Except for headshots)