Members of the Class of 2022 from Conard High School, Hall High School, Kingswood Oxford, and Newington High School who have committed to serve in the U.S. military were recognized at a ceremony hosted by West Hartford Public Schools and American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96.
By Clara Sorkin. Photos by Ronni Newton
American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 hosted its annual student military induction ceremony on May 31, recognizing local high school students in the Class of 2022 who will be serving in the United States armed forces after graduating. The 20 honorees, hailing from Conard High School, Hall High School, Kingswood Oxford School, and Newington High School, were celebrated for their commitment to service in five branches of the U.S. military.
Keynote speaker LtGen Edward Banta, USMC deputy commandant, Installations and Logistics, spoke to the military-bound students and their families about his own experience in the armed forces. Banta, a 1982 Conard High School graduate who also served as grand marshal in the town’s 2022 Memorial Day parade and as keynote speaker for the ceremony that followed , shared his reasons for joining the Marine Corps.
Banta acknowledged the importance of service. “As a service member you represent not just yourself, but your family, your community, your service, and ultimately, your country,” he said. Banta also made a point of discussing the “new and increasingly dangerous risks” of technology, but how the new skill sets of the younger generations – who may already know how to fly drones, or use 3D printers – have equipped them well to face these challenges.
“When I think about the capabilities that [these new skill sets] bring forward for our Marines, our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen … it is just amazing … you’re living in a cutting-edge world …” Banta said.
Eight years ago, American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96, in collaboration with West Hartford Public Schools, hosted its inaugural recognition ceremony for students entering the armed forces after graduation. The ceremony has been hosted every year since, excluding 2020, due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event began with the ceremonial posting of the colors by the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 Honor Guard. Following this, Conard High School student Declan Smith sang a touching rendition of the National Anthem, and Kingswood Oxford School student and honoree Stella Risinger led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The round of speeches of the night was then kicked off by Monsignor James F. Kinnane, COL (USA Retired), who gave the invocation. Kinnane’s speech included praise for the graduates, and well wishes for their future services, saying “May they enjoy this new journey with their own growth and the service of our nation in the noble military profession,” as well as a mention of his gratitude towards the students’ parents for supporting their children in their future endeavors in the armed forces.
The opening remarks of the ceremony were delivered by Heidi Anne Mooney, commander of Post 96. Mooney, a veteran of the Marine Corps herself, expressed her gratitude towards the graduating students, assuring them that they have a “great adventure ahead of [them],” and that their decision to serve their country is an honorable one.
“Everyone in this room is in better hands knowing that you guys are the future for the United States, and you’re going to carry the torch onwards,” Mooney said, as she further acknowledged the sacrifices and commitment to service made by the honorees.
Superintendent of West Hartford Public Schools Tom Moore thanked the students for stepping up, and for their commitments to keeping other people safe.
Moore also introduced National Guard CSM Paul Vicinus, who is also assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Administration of West Hartford Public Schools, and the founder of the military service recognition event.
“That time [of service] doesn’t end when your tour ends,” Moore remarked, in regards to Vicinus’ continued commitment to service.
Following Mooney’s and Moore’s opening remarks, the Hall High School Choraliers performed a touching musical interlude.
The honorees were formally recognized by the speakers and their own high school principals. Each student received a chord for graduation, a certificate of commendation, and an American Legion coin, as a thanks for their commitment to service.
During the dinner period of the celebration, some student honorees shared their reasons for joining the armed forces. Conard High School student Carlos Ruiz, who will be joining the Air National Guard, has a familial connection behind the reason for his service.
Ruiz’s grandfather, cousins, and other family members served in the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marines. He said he originally thought about joining the Navy, “but the National Guard interested me the most. There’s more opportunity for me.”
After the students had been individually recognized, the closing remarks were delivered by West Hartford Public Schools Board of Education Chair Lorna Thomas-Farquharson. She commended the students for their perseverance during the pandemic, referencing the West Hartford Public Schools motto: “Clear paths, bright futures, no limits.” Thomas-Farquharson said she asked an honoree who had sat at her table during the ceremony about their motivation behind her choice to join the armed forces. “I’m resilient. I’m determined. I want to protect our country,” the student shared.
Several other students also shared their reasons for joining the military. Camden Carpenter, who is graduating from Hall High School, will be joining the Army ROTC program at UConn. He said that he wanted to join the military “because [he] love[s] this country and [he] want[s] to do everything … to protect it and the freedom it represents.”
The benediction at the end of the ceremony was conducted by Barry Leghorn, Chaplain, American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96.
The honorees are as follows:
- Hugh Baldwin, Conard High School: West Point
- Chinmay Bhatt, Conard High School: U.S. Navy
- Camden Carpenter, Hall High School: Army ROTC
- Jesus Cintron, Newington High School: U.S. Air Force
- Jhayden Harris, Newington High School: U.S. Navy
- Aiden Kotowitz, Hall High School: U.S. Air Force
- Emonie Laurent, Conard High School: Army National Guard
- Paul Lawless, Newington High School: Army National Guard
- Michael Medina, Newington High School: U.S. Marines
- James Mills, Newington High School: U.S. Navy
- Nith Mony, Conard High School: U.S. Marines
- Adam Morhardt, Conard High School: Air Force Academy
- Kevin Nguyen, Conard High School: U.S. Naval Academy
- Conor Ravenberg, Hall High School: Army National Guard
- Brennen Ravenberg, Hall High School: Army National Guard
- Daniel Raymond, Kingswood Oxford School: Army ROTC
- Stella Risinger, Kingswood Oxford School: Air Force ROTC
- Marvin Romero Sanchez, Conard High School: Army National Guard
- Carlos Ruiz, Conard High School: Air National Guard
- Connor Smith, Conard High School: U.S. Navy
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