Following are excerpts from the remarks I shared at the dedication of the new Sunita L. Williams Elementary School on October 11, 2019. Check out other photos at the end of this post!
|Captain "Suni" Williams talking to students the night before dedication about space travel.|
The Needham School Committee strategically and tirelessly advocated for the replacement of the outdated and overcrowded Hillside School. They pressed the community, Town Meeting, Town boards, and our amazing partners at the MSBA for funding to build an incredible facility that was student-centered, creatively designed, energy efficient, provided room for growth, and allowed the School Committee to implement its longstanding goal to open publicly funded Full Day Kindergarten throughout the District for all children.
Finally, the Needham School Committee seized the opportunity to name this new school once it was clear we would not be building on the Hillside campus. It couldn’t really keep its former and much beloved name, Hillside, because, well, the school is not located on a hillside! Nonetheless, some requested the name remain the same and some proposed naming the school after the wonderful and generous Owens family who sold the land to make room for the school. Others suggested an historical figure from Needham’s Colonial past.
But the Needham School Committee had another idea. They wanted to name this school in a way that acknowledges the tremendous spirit and achievement of the community yet breaks from the norm of how and for whom schools and public buildings are typically and traditionally identified. The School Committee insisted that the school be named in honor of someone who has had strong roots in the community and has lived a life of character, integrity, adventure, and service. They wanted to ensure that current and future students would have a role model, someone with whom they can identify, and even aspire to become. They wanted a hometown hero whose life and story reflects the hopes and dreams of all children from all backgrounds, ethnicities, languages, and cultures.
And so, on June 6, 2017 after a year’s research and deliberation, the Needham School Committee voted unanimously to name this new school the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School. Thank you, Suni, for accepting my phone call back in May 2017 when I first asked you if this would be OK with you! After a long pause, then some nervous laughter and saying "You’ve got to be kidding… !!" you humbly and graciously accepted. Thank you, Suni, for lending your name so that these children can be inspired for generations to come by a life well lived. And thanks to the Needham School Committee for making this project a reality and having the wisdom and courage to name the school in recognition of a favorite and cherished daughter of the Needham community.
Lastly, allow me to conclude our program by reminding you with a story why we are here. And, spoiler alert—it’s not really about Suni, whom, of course, we all adore!
All of us here today have different connections to this community, this school, its students, and, of course, to Suni. We have varied roles as educators, contractors, architects, state, local, and public officials, proud parents, neighbors, active and retired military… Yet all of us in our many and diverse roles are here for a singular purpose.
You see, there’s a story about President Kennedy who, the story goes, was visiting NASA in 1962. And as he toured the facility, he and his entourage came upon a custodian holding a mop. JFK stopped to meet the man and gregariously asked: “Now what is it you do here?” The custodian quickly replied, “Mr. President, I’m helping to send a man to the moon!”
In the same way we are all here today because of something bigger than ourselves and larger than our individual lives or responsibilities. All of us in our own way are contributing to the education of these amazing children.
Today, this diverse gathering of caring adults, who are deeply invested in this community and our future as a vibrant democracy and nation, comes together to support the students of the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School.
And our purpose? Our mission? Well, we are all here to help them reach for the stars.
|Members of the Needham VFW presenting the Colors at the dedication|
|Students singing the National Anthem|
|The "Tapples" who are former Hillside and current Sunita L. Williams students performing at the dedication|
|Capatin Suni Williams addressing the audience with Principal Kascak and student on stage|
|Needham School Committee and Suni|
|Members of the USS Constitution were honored to be present for the dedication|
|Members of the Naval Academy Class of '87, Suni's class, were present to celebrate and honor her|
|Principal Kascak and Suni unveil the dedication plaque in the school's lobby|
|Suni is an amazing role model for children!|