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With ‘High Spirits,’ Spartans Graduate

Class of 2007 helped establish scholarship fund in memory of Virginia Tech shooting victim.

With several rounds of congratulations and recognitions, West Springfield High graduates and faculty bid each other farewell Wednesday, June 13 in an evening commencement ceremony at the Patriot Center.

In her welcome speech, graduate Lauren Hidalgo told the class, "What I’ll miss most is the people." She said she wished high school were "just a little bit longer" so she could "continue to be amused and impressed" by her classmates.

Graduate Denny Park, presenting the Teacher of the Year award, described the winner as "more than a teacher. He’s a mentor, a role model, a coach, a father and a husband." Park said, "He has inspired me to become a better person." He presented the award to technical education teacher Scott Settar.

Park went on to introduce Dr. David Smith, the school’s retiring principal, as one who had "left a lasting impression on his students, the faculty and the school." He invoked Smith’s motto, "Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and take care of this place," asserting that Smith embodied that advice. "We are honored and in high spirits that you will be graduating with us." Park presented Smith with a graduation diploma.

"You all did the vast majority of the work that landed you on the floor of the Patriot Center tonight," said Smith, to the graduates. "But you didn’t do it alone." He urged them to thank their parents and other who had helped them along the way.

Smith also told of hearing someone at a social function "groaning about what’s the world coming to with kids these days," to which had had promptly objected. "I didn’t just say, ‘I disagree.’ I said, ‘ I disagree!’" Smith said. "I can tell you, we, the older generation, we’re going to be fine, because you all are going to go out there and do the great things you’ve already shown you have the potential to do."

SMITH THEN presented a round of awards, beginning with the Spartan Award, granted in recognition of enthusiasm, service, leadership and devotion to the school. He noted that the recipient, Amy Zinicola, had maintained a GPA of almost 3.9 while taking three AP classes, was "highly spirited" and had been voted "Hardcore Spartan" by the class.

The Faculty Award, given by the staff in recognition of leadership, scholarship and achievement, went to Ben Trump. Smith noted that Trump had been active in volleyball, track, band and forensics and had advised and organized sporting events, all while maintaining a GPA of just over a 4.0. He had also been voted "Most Likely to Succeed."

Brianna Gays took home the Bonnie E. Lilley Service Award. Smith said Gays, "always a leader," was accomplished in sports and DECA, had taken five AP classes, served as a class officer and was teaching ballroom dancing and etiquette and working with a youth group. Gays had been voted "Best Dressed" in her class.

Introducing vice principal Mike Mukai, who stepped into his position mid-year, Trump referred to Mukai’s "vast intellect" and patience when working with students, as well as his performance in a soda chugging contest. "He taught me to reach for the stars, but also to be proud of who you are," said Trump.

Mukai was presenting the Valedictorian medals, but first, he thanked the parents in attendance for having raised the graduates and told them, "It is their strength and promise that gives me the greatest hope for the future." To the class of 2007, he said, "Take care. Be safe. Make us proud." Mukai presented the first valedictorian medal to Christina Sohn, who had the class’ highest GPA, a 4.138.

Presenting the senior gift, Trump noted that he and his classmates had been shaken by more than one tragedy, the last of which was the shooting at Virginia Tech, which took the life of Leslie Sherman of West Springfield’s Class of 2005. The class had helped to set up the Leslie Sherman Scholarship Memorial Fund, to which he encouraged those present to donate. "We are Spartans," Trump said. "We shall prevail."

"I know my remarks are the last obstacle you have to overcome before you get your diplomas," said keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), before telling a few tales and imparting some advice. One of Davis’ stories illustrated time management, which he said is necessary to rise to the challenges of a changing world.

On one occasion, said Davis, a time management expert had given a presentation to a group of overachieving business students, during which he had filled a mason jar with fist-sized rocks and asked, "Is this jar full?" The students replied that it was. The expert had then poured gravel into the jar, filling the spaces between the rocks and asked again if it was full. "Having caught on by now, the students replied, ‘Probably not,’" said Davis.

After sand and, finally, water had been poured into the jar, filling it to the brim, the speaker had asked what the point of the exercise had been, Davis said. A student had replied, "No matter how full you think your schedule is, you can always fit in more." However, Davis said the actual lesson was, "If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all." He advised the graduates, "Think about what are the big rocks in your life."

Following the presentation of diplomas, Zinicola made a few remarks. "We find ourselves wondering where the time has gone," she told her classmates. She noted that graduation would mark "the end of familiarity and the beginning of new possibilities." However, she said, "I hope that you will take with you the memories you’ve made at West Springfield."