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OPINION: Wallwork’s Skyridge High School graduation speech inspires all



I must confess that I was not looking forward to attending Skyridge’s graduation program last Thursday. It was not because I didn’t want to honor my two adorable granddaughters, but walking a mile to get to the Marriot Center and then climbing many stairs to find an eventual seat just seemed a little daunting for this “aging structure.”

Throughout my career as a teacher, counselor, and school board member, I have attended many, many graduations. The programs were all pretty much the same. Speakers talked about goals, opportunities and accomplishments. Music was provided, and principals, board members and students gave speeches. But this graduation was different. I left the Marriot Center teary-eyed, inspired, and with a full heart.

In last week’s event, the students’ talks were humorous, light-hearted, and short. The musical presentation was excellent, but Skyridge Principal John Wallwork’s speech inspired all who attended. Wallwork began by introducing a retiring teacher, Valerie Harrison. He said Harrison dropped out of Kearns High School to help with her family’s finances. She eventually went to Ricks College and then BYU. She had to obtain her GED to get into BYU. Harrison taught school for 30 years. After sharing her story, Wallwork presented Harrison with an honorary diploma from Skyridge High School. Students cheered as Principal Wallwork presented Harrison with her diploma. She openly wept.

Next, he introduced four graduating seniors. First was Jenny Joassaint. Jenny was born in Haiti, and at age 15, her parents sent her to the United States to escape the dangerous conditions in their country. Jenny spoke no English, only French and Creole. She has excelled in the last three years, earning a scholarship to Utah Valley University. She plans to major in engineering and dance and hopes to open dance studios in third-world countries to help those who otherwise could not afford dance lessons.

Then, Wallwork introduced Georgina Diaz Torres. Diaz Torres moved to the United States from Mexico, and eventually, she came to Utah. She has maintained a 3.9 GPA while working two 20-hour jobs at Walmart and Marshalls. She has also earned a pharmacy tech certificate from MTECH while in high school. Georgina was awarded a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah and plans to get her biomedical engineering degree and eventually become an anesthesiologist. “Most of her homework had to be done in early mornings or late nights,” said Wallwork.

Lincoln Perkins was the next student to be recognized. Lincoln is the son of former Skyridge Principal Joel Perkins. According to Wallwork, “Lincoln has thrived at Skyridge. He has been a member of the Unified sports team and plays the bass, guitar, and violin while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. He will continue his education at Alpine Tech and UVU to pursue his dreams of becoming an accomplished musician.”

The last senior to be honored was llaiasi Tonga Tukuafu. He is the first in his family to graduate from high school. His father, grandfather, uncle and two cousins have recently passed away. Ilaiasi’s two cousins were killed in a shooting at Hunter High School. His Uncle and Auntie Mahe, who are Lehi residents, have been very supportive of Tukuafu. Upon his father’s death, he moved back to Salt Lake City to be with his mother, Kalani. Ilaiasi traveled on Frontrunner from Salt Lake to Lehi each morning to finish his Skyridge schooling. He has played football, lacrosse, and wrestling and has been a member of the Polynesian Club. He plans to attend UVU, major in criminal justice, and become a police officer.


Impressively, Mr. Wallwork thanked all the students in their native languages, French, Spanish, and Tongan.

Mrs. Harrison and these seniors were all received a resounding ovation. Then, Mr. Wallwork asked all the seniors on championship teams to stand. These students included football players, girls tennis, cheer, drama, boys swimming, unified soccer players, and state track champions. A remarkable number of students stood to the applause of the audience.

Mr. Wallwork concluded his remarks, “This is evidence that Skyridge is not just a football school, but tennis, drama, track, music and swim. We achieve academically and athletically.”

Recognition of such a wide range of student achievements was inspiring to all who attended. I applaud Mr. Wallwork and his dedication to all students at Skyridge. As Jenny Brems, Wallwork’s administrative assistant, said, “Mr. Wallwork is all about the kids.”

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