An induction ceremony was held Friday at Swanton High School for the first class of the Swanton Local School District Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. The first two inductees were Val Watts and Robert Mitchell.
The hall of fame was developed to recognize and honor Swanton alumni who have achieved significant success in their chosen career fields and to provide role models for the students of Swanton.
“We want all the people of the school district to see, ‘Hey I’m from Swanton. They’re from Swanton. I can go out and do great things too,’” said Jeff Schlade, Swanton superintendent. “That’s the essence of why we wanted to start this particular hall of fame.”
Val Watts currently serves as the interim head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University. He is a 1985 graduate of Swanton High School.
Schlade said he didn’t realize it at the time, but Watts was a mentor of his growing up. “Val was only a year ahead of me in school, but I’ll tell you what, I sure looked up to him.”
Watts said he was honored to be inducted and a bit overwhelmed by his selection. “It is an honor to come back and get a chance to speak with the students.
“It’s a great opportunity to come back and talk to students who are still trying to find their way and figure out what they want to do when they grow up,” Watts added.
He told students of three qualities he thinks are important for success- perseverance, opportunity, and lifelong learning. Watts related how those qualities helped him achieve his goals and overcome challenges.
He spoke of opportunities that were provided to him as far back as elementary and junior high school in Swanton.
“These were really opportunities that were optional. I didn’t have to pursue them,” Watts said. “But in discussions with my parents and faculty here and at other schools, I decided that they were worthwhile.”
And, he added, they were the very early beginnings of being a lifelong learner.
“I know that in life we face lots of challenges, many big, some small. But I think if we look at challenges as opportunities rather than challenges we find ways to persevere. (If) we use these challenges, or these opportunities, as ways to learn something, ways to improve ourselves, I think we can really make a difference in our own attitude.
“If you do that yourself, hopefully you can inspire that in someone else next to you.”
Following graduation from the University of Toledo, Mitchell earned two master’s degrees, and distinguished himself in a military career within the areas of the Army Medical Department, Aeromedical Evacuation, and Aerospace Science. He is a 1976 graduate of Swanton High School.
At first, Mitchell was reluctant to receive the honor. “Coach (Dave) Hansbarger always taught me, be humble in what you do.”
But, it gave him the opportunity to come back and speak to Swanton students. “It’s great to come back here and talk to you guys because you are the next generation, the leadership that will be out wherever this world takes you,” he told students.
Mitchell spoke about his relationship with Hansbarger, which he said has stuck with him.
“He is a legend,” said Mitchell. “I get choked up when I talk about this.” The mentorship he received at Swanton stuck with him 40 years later in combat situations.
“I’d refer back to what Coach Hansbarger taught me, what the faculty, the administration at this school, this great institution right here taught me, which was, ‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself, think about those leadership attributes that we taught you. We gave you the skill set to go out there and make things happen.’ And everything was pretty much easy from that point on.”
He told students to find a career they have a passion for, not just for the money. “Do it because you have a passion for it and you never work another day in your life. Trust me.”
Mitchell was honored to be selected for the inaugural hall of fame class.
“It’s humbling,” said Mitchell. “At the same time it brings back fond memories and it is such an honor, it’s very humbling, to be in this position.”