The Morris Community High School annual Honors Recognition Program is now a 30-year tradition.
Superintendent Dr. Pat Halloran called the 30th annual honors night Wednesday a “milestone,” credited in part to Jim Baum, who sat on the school board when the district brainstormed and created the night to recognize academics. The George H. Baum Community Charitable Trust also financially supports the event annually.
About 200 students from all four grade levels were recognized during the ceremony.
“Shortly after being elected, we sat down to try and find a way to raise interest in academics at Morris high school,” said Baum.
Baum told the students the honor’s night was to accomplish two purposes: public recognition of their outstanding work and to bring Morris high alumni to them to hear about their experiences and learn from them.
This year’s keynote speaker, Capt. Elizabeth Talarico, was the Class of 1994’s valedictorian. Talarico is now an Army Reserve Officer and an attorney for the Army, Medical Command at Fort Hood, Texas. She has served her country in Germany, Afghanistan and Colorado.
“In high school, I participated in pretty much everything over those four years,” she said. “I was in Spanish club, the school newspaper staff, the drama club, the choir program, the flag corps, Madrigals, jazz choir, the softball team, Mathletes, the Saturday Scholar program, the volleyball team, the yearbook staff and the annual musical.
“I’m tired just thinking about it all and I’m not even sure if some of those things still exist, but I do know that it was a lot and I would not have had it any other way.”
Each and every one of these activities, classes and her teachers helped shape her into the accomplished woman she is today, she said. In softball, she learned patience waiting for her turn to bat and waiting for the perfect pitch; teamwork from volleyball; appreciation for reading and literature through her English classes; and stage presence through the annual musical.
“I loved the experience of putting on a musical with amazing friends,” she said. “It’s where I learned stage presence. How to stand in front of an audience, feel comfortable with what I was going to do, and say and do it.”
She said when she is in court in front of a judge and a packed gallery, that courage and stage presence she learned in high school carries her through.
Her keynote address was not her first speech at Morris High. During her valedictorian speech 19 years ago, she told the students then, “Anything worth doing will require hard work. Whether making a new path or following a path, use your talents to do the best.”
She told the honors students that her philosophy has not changed in the last 19 years.
“Continue to work hard, striving to do your best. Enjoy life as it comes and take advantage of the doors that open to you, and you will continue to succeed. I am sure of it,” Talarico concluded.
The seniors were the first to receive their honors recognition certificates, giving them the opportunity to practice their graduation walk coming up next week.
Many students hugged at the end of the ceremony, some with excitement for their first honors night and others because it would be their last.
“It feels wonderful to be recognized all three years, mostly because they say junior year is the toughest,” said junior Yese Guzman.
Junior Samantha Obrochta said that, for honors students, all of the commitments are scary at first, but the recognition night helps them to continue to push on.
“It feels impossible to juggle everything, but then you get here and see a lot of other people can juggle things like me,” she said.