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By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
It’s not every day that a town gets to dedicate a school like the new Sunita L. Williams Elementary. With its numerous media centers, its state-of-the-art classrooms, and its creative playground, the school represents a perfect educational haven for both staff and students.
But it’s also not every day that schools are named after people who are still living. And it’s even rarer that they come to the dedication. The Sunita L. Williams Elementary School was built to replace the aged-out Hillside Elementary School. On Friday, October 11, the new school’s namesake, Astronaut Sunita Williams, a graduate of Hillside, was on hand to dedicate the building.
The dedication began with a thank-you to staff, parents, and students. John Bulian, one of Needham’s selectmen, recalled the story of how the town came across the new site of the school. The spot was previously the site of Owen’s Poultry Farm. The owner contacted Bulian about selling the property, giving the town of Needham the first chance at buying it. “Doug, I’m buying your land and building a school,” he responded.
Principal Michael Kascak was more than happy to welcome Sunita Williams back to Needham - especially given that she was the greatest alumna of Hillside. “I would like to add,” said Kascak, “that given this facility, you’re the greatest so far.”
During her speech, Capt. Williams happily recalled some of her favorite moments at Hillside. She told her audience about dissecting a squid for the first time, and then frying it up in class - as well as a party she attended years after. “There’s so many wonderful things to do in this town,” she added. She ended her speech, recalling that her education in Needham made her prepared for “the next leap to do not only the hard things, but the next great things.” As she spoke, her former classmates from the Naval Academy and Hillside waved cardboard cut-outs of her face in the air, making just about everyone in the audience - and Capt. Williams herself - laugh.
Just as the students of Needham were welcoming Capt. Williams back to school, she came back to Needham with her own surprise: planks from the U.S.S. Constitution. In bringing them, she effectively made every current student and educator a plank owner - that is, a member of the crew on a U.S. Navy vessel at the time of its commissioning. Their names will be inscribed into the planks for all to see as the first people to learn and work in this brand-new school.
Asked what her favorite part of the day was, Capt. Williams did not hesitate with her answer: “The kids participating. The kids are so cool.” Indeed, the kids were not only present, but active participants in the dedication. Among the souvenirs of the day that Capt. Williams took home with her was a guitar pick from the Tapples, a band of former Hillside students (and one current Sunita L. Williams Elementary student). The band performed “If I Had a Million Dollars,” one of Capt. Williams’ wake-up songs in space, during the dedication.
For the citizens of Needham, this new school is testament to the amazing things several million dollars can do in the community.