From a strong foundation

No matter how different their paths may be, the three newest inductees into Seymour High School’s Wall of Fame started in the same place.

With hard work, high standards for themselves, a strong moral compass and the support of teachers, family and friends, Dr. Joseph W. Conner, Joyce Stout Irwin and U.S. Navy Capt. Paul S. Snodgrass have earned much success and recognition in their lives.

This week, the three SHS graduates were honored by their alma mater and the community during a banquet Thursday, an induction ceremony with students Friday and at Seymour’s home football game Friday night.

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Snodgrass, a submarine squadron commander, could not attend the events as he already had committed to being the guest speaker during a change of command ceremony for the USS John Warner in Norfolk, Virginia.

But he sent his sentiments in a prepared statement that was read by senior Mikaela Grout during Friday’s convocation.

Snodgrass, who graduated in 1985, wrote he is proud of his background and of the education he received at Seymour High School.

“Our high school here in Seymour takes a backseat to none of the school systems that I have experienced through my own children and through the children of my colleagues,” he said. “Seymour’s quality of education curriculum, facilities and most importantly teachers is top notch, grade A, first rate.”

He went on to thank some of his teachers for the lessons they taught him which have served him well in life and in his naval career, he said. Those teachers include Mr. Stickles, Mr. Rick Schuley, who continues to teach chemistry at Seymour High School, Mr. Brantley Blythe, Mrs. Scott, Mr. Art Jones and his former swim coach, Mr. Dave Boggs, who also still teaches physical education and coaches at the school.

Snodgrass’ advice to students is to “embrace lifelong learning … learn how to communicate your thoughts and ideas and learn to work as a team.”

Conner, who graduated from Seymour High School in 1973 was a pioneer in the field of ophthalmology and helped advance eye care locally and across the state through innovative techniques and procedures.

In 1998, he and Dr. Thomas Smith built the Conner Smith Eye Center on West Tipton Street, which continues to serve patients needs today.

Conner retired from the practice just last year.

He said the education and experiences he had at Seymour High School are a big reason for his success.

“My education here prepared me well for subsequent education and my life’s work,” he said. “I am indebted to all the teachers at Seymour High School for their participation in my education, but I’m particularly indebted to my science and math teachers.”

Conner said those teachers helped foster his lifelong interest in science, math and learning.

“I encourage all students to maintain curiosity throughout their lives,” he said. “That curiosity may not involve math or science as it did me, but it could involve history, art, music or business.”

Conner said as high school students, they might not realize it now, but lifelong learning can provide “great pleasure” in adulthood.

“I encourage you to maintain it and cultivate it,” he said.

He also encouraged students to work closely with people around them, not just alongside them, and to respect others opinions and value their input.

Conner said it’s important to be your own person, but to make sure you are the person you want to be.

“Do not compromise your standards, but make sure your decisions are guided by a moral compass,” he said.

He, too, listed and thanked several teachers who made an impact on him and gave him opportunities to succeed, including Mr. John Lewis, Mrs. Hacker, Mr. Bell, Mr. Gordon Reynolds and his tennis coach, Mr. Bill Bailey.

“Teachers, understand how even small things you say or do for a student can have a profound impression,” he said. “It’s true, if you want to be remembered long after you’re gone, be a teacher.”

Also graduating from Seymour High School in 1973, Irwin currently serves as CEO of Community Health Network Foundation, a nonprofit organization where most recently she led a campaign that raised more than $2 million to help patients battling cancer. She also volunteers for a number of philanthropic causes involving health, business and opportunities for women, all of which led to her receiving the Outstanding National Volunteer Award from former president George W. Bush.

Irwin said she came early to the ceremony so that she could walk around the school.

“Walking in brought back a lot of memories,” she said. “I saw a lot of things that have stayed the same and a lot that has changed. It’s really good to see a lot of things have changed, because that means a lot of progress has been made.”

Her life, she said, has been defined by three things: her faith, family and friends.

Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Irwin said there weren’t many opportunities for women, and there weren’t a lot of female role models.

“That’s one of the reasons I dedicated my life to providing opportunities for women,” she said.

She credits her confidence in herself and her abilities to her father, who along with her mother, is now deceased.

“My father always told me I would have every opportunity that my brothers had,” she said. “He would always encourage me, but he also taught me about accountability and responsibility.”

Irwin said her mother also taught her many valuable life lessons.

“That winning is important, but how you win is always very important as well,” she said. “And never to do anything half way, but to do it right the first time, or you’ll be doing it again and again and again.”

Her parents also helped provide her and her brothers with a lifelong journey of learning and education, she added.

“And the education and foundation I had here at Seymour was key to my success,” she said.

She thanked her former teachers, including Mr. Art Jones, Mr. Earl Prout, who led to her being a part of the school’s first swing choir, Mrs. Moffet and Ms. Donna Sullivan, who led her to being a part of the schools’ first girls basketball and volleyball teams.

“Who knew that we were trailblazers,” she said. “We were just a group of girls who wanted to play, but I’m very proud to have played on this gym floor and to have been a part of the success of this school.”

Although proud to be from Seymour, Irwin said, “It’s not where you’re from; it’s where you’re going,” that’s important.

“A girl from a small town can achieve anything and still be a small-town girl,” she said.

This year’s induction was the ninth of its kind.

Principal Greg Prange said the Wall of Fame serves as more than a way to recognize and honor the extraordinary accomplishments of Seymour High School graduates.

“It’s to encourage you current students to value and to take advantage of your high school experience and opportunities and to witness how graduating from Seymour can help set the stage for your own future success,” he said.

Prange went on to highlight the inductees’ diverse talents and how all students can reach high levels of achievement in whatever field they enter.

“Your strengths as a student and as a person may not be the same as those of your classmates, but your own uniqueness carries the potential for success in and after high school,” he said. “The individuals we recognized today are talented, but talent alone did not get them to this level of expertise. It took work and lots of it.”