Tonawanda News — A local tradition continued Wednesday night, as the 47th annual Quality Students banquet was held at Banchettis Banquet Facility in Amherst.
Mark Saltarelli is the chairman of the Quality Student committee, which honors outstanding students from three local high schools: North Tonawanda, Tonawanda and Cardinal O’Hara.
“It’s not just honor students, but students who in various fields, whether it be technical shop, athletics, academics or whatever else, set themselves apart from others in that field,” Saltarelli said.
Each school has its own criteria that it uses to select Quality Students, but Saltarelli said much of it is based on community involvement and participation in school activities.
Andrew Haskill, a 2006 graduate of Tonawanda High School, and former Quality Student, gave a speech which echoed Saltarelli’s emphasis on community involvement.
“Please never forget your community or the groups that allowed you to get to this point,” Haskill said. “Share your time and talents with others, and make the Tonawandas a better place by getting involved.”
Haskill, a data analyst for Citi, also talked about the importance of finding a career, a topic the keynote speaker Molly E. Irvin-Peter talked almost exclusively about.
Irvin-Peter is the co-owner of Holland Land Title & Abstract, and her speech focused on the challenges that come with a career.
“If you think your parents and teachers have been hard on you, wait until you get a boss,” Irvin-Peter said.
“I’ve had some great successes but I’ve also had a few setbacks,” she said, noting she was lucky enough to be living with her parents during the 10 months it took her to find a job after college.
The students receiving this honor seemed to have similar support from their parents — most of the honorees were accompanied by them.
The dinner had a family feel to it, as many of 65 Quality Students’ names were followed by mentions of their moms, dads, brothers and sisters having previously received the honor.
Mary Holzerland, principal of Cardinal O’Hara, constantly used the word passionate to describe her students.
Students like student council president Gerald Combes, who went on a missionary trip to El Salvador, during which he built latrines for the poor.
James Newton, superintendent of Tonawanda, also spoke about the diverse interests and accomplishments of his students as he read off what they said was their greatest memory of high school.
For Joanna McCarthy that moment was completing a 39.3 mile walk to raise money for breast cancer.
Other Tonawanda’s like Jacob Choate and Steven Warthling cited athletic accomplishments as their greatest moments.
Perhaps the lightest moment of the evening came when James Fisher, principal of North Tonawanda Senior High School, read the favorite memory of Jacob Clare.
That memory was the first time his football team, North Tonawanda, beat their rivals from Tonawanda in the annual T-NT game. Clare even made sure to include the 35-0 scoreline in his memory.
The crowd laughed as Fisher looked at Clare and said, “Did you not know Tonawanda was going to be here tonight?”