By JEN CARDINES
On Tuesday, May 23, 10 seniors from the Class of 2017 were honored at the annual Military Appreciation luncheon for enlisting in the United States military after graduation. School and town officials gathered in the John Weichsel Municipal Center meeting room, which was decorated with red, white, and blue balloons, table cloths, and flags.
Each year, Southington schools partner with the Veterans Committee to salute the graduating seniors that enlisted in the military. Principal Brian Stranieri presented the students with military cords as they were called up in front of their teachers and families.
Each student will wear the red, white, and blue cord during commencement ceremonies in June.
The American Legion Kiltonic Post 72 and the Women’s Auxiliary gave each enlistee a military challenge coin, a certificate, a blue star banner for their parents to keep at home, and a pocket flag.
Shamus Geel, Damon Hatch, Nicholas Kelley, Jared Lacko, Matthew Nappe, Adam Theriault, and Joshua Wyskiewicz will enter the United States Army. Louis Gianacopolos, Jr. will enter the Connecticut Air National Guard, while Dilan Howard will enter the United States Marine Corps and Everett Sperry will enter the Connecticut Army National Guard.
The event also included remarks by members of the Board of Education (BOE) and Superintendent of Schools Timothy Connellan, along with performances by the high school jazz band, while enlistees, alumni, veterans, and families enjoyed lunch.
“We value this as one of the most important events at the end of each school year,” BOE chair Brian Goralski said. “Our country is better off because of people like you making the choice you’re making to go on to serve.”
SHS civics teacher Joel Patrick Leger was chosen as this year’s guest speaker to address the students on entering the military.
“I realized that I had never done anything to earn a single one of those,” Leger said about the freedoms and privileges he had growing up. “They’d all been handed to me and earned by somebody else. So I made the decision to join the army and go out and earn some of those things that I had been given.”
Leger recalled his army years travelling the world and being on the frontline for the Iraq invasion. He was in Korea for training when his unit got word that the World Trade Center had been struck on 9/11, which changed the course of his military path.
“I realized I was doing things that would be written in a history book someday,” Leger said. “One of my students asked if I had seen any news footage from an invasion and I explained I was actually in the news footage.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Photos by JEN CARDINES