A new mural now sits on the Hart High School campus that honors 134 graduates who served or gave their lives in service to the country as members of the military or as first responders.
The school’s Wall of Honor was officially dedicated to the campus and Santa Clarita community Tuesday in a ceremony full of fanfare and reflection.
“I had a number of occasions to be a proud alumni but I think today is the day I am most proud to be a Hart Indian,” Santa Clarita Mayor and Hart High School graduate Cameron Smyth said.
As Santa Clarita’s oldest school, first opened in 1947, the high school has sent thousands of graduates to serve in the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard as well as in the police force or in the fire department. The Wall of Honor’s 134 names reflect those individuals who submitted forms to the school’s ASB program before Aug. 1.
The high school chose to add a Wall of Honor to its campus about one year ago when Hart High School parent Chris Wingenroth suggested the idea to Principal Collyn Nielsen.
“His suggestion to me last year planted the seed and was the first step in this process,” Nielsen said. “When I mentioned the idea to our ASB Director Diana De La Maza there was not a single bit of hesitation on her part; she embraced the project, took ownership of it and began to work on the logistics immediately.”
Now, after a year of hard work, the Wall of Honor—complete with individual plaques and an original painting—is a reality.
“Every school should have it,” said Wingenroth, whose son Kevin is currently serving in the military. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The night’s ceremony also included a helicopter flyover, complete with sirens, from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a touching speech from Maj. Breezy Long of the U.S. Air Force.
“I am honored to be here representing all the Hart grads who have chosen to serve in the military whether for one tour of duty, for a career or until their final breath,” Long said.
Long, a 2000 graduate of Hart High School, has served in active duty for 13 years and is currently serving as the chief of wing intelligence of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
During her speech, Long described how the school’s motto, Alive with Pride, as well as its foundation prepared her for her role in the military and helped her build a life beyond what she could have imagined.
“I was probably the last person anyone would expect to join the military one day,” Long said. “But when the high school JROTC cadets came to Placerita, I found myself thinking of my grandparents, what some would call the greatest generation.”
As she moved into high school, Long joined the JROTC program and continued to thrive academically as an AP and honors student.
“I was determined to be the first person in my family to attend college, [and] also determined to serve in the military before chasing my own goals, not quite sure how to do both,” she said.
She credits her teachers and mentors at Hart for steering her in the right direction, telling her about the Air Force Academy and preparing her, both mentally and academically, for the expectations of the Academy and for being her saving grace in times of hardship.
“The only way I thrived in that pressure cooker of an environment was the way that the Hart teachers had tirelessly groomed me, all of us, for that kind of challenge,” Long said.
Long, along with other veterans and active service members, was grateful and touched that the current student body chose to honor the service of those they had never met before.
“I was touched but not surprised,” she said. “This is the kind of thing Hart people do.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_