Home » Fun & Community » Student Highlight: Graduation – Interview with 2 Graduating Seniors

Student Highlight: Graduation – Interview with 2 Graduating Seniors

Graduation: Educator Marie Hartwell-Walker says that graduation is important as it gives the graduate and his family a signal that he has closed a chapter of his life and is opening a new chapter.  This past weekend two of our students graduated from high school, Ben and Hoang. I had a chance to go to both of their graduations and celebrate a bit as they marked this achievement and milestone in their lives.  I also asked them a few questions about their high school experience and what their plans are for the future, because sadly, both Ben and Hoang will be leaving SMAA.

Benjamin Hill

High School Graduate Ben Hill

Ben Hill’s High School Graduation with Sifu Eric Winfree 6/25/2016

(1) What does this graduation mean to you?

Ben: This graduation means everything to me and my mother. I am the last child out of 6 to make it out of high school.  She has been through so much putting up with me from elementary school to now.  I have been through so many ups and downs in school with my ADD and depression.  I did not always know how I was going to make it through, but with the help of my mother, I found a way. School wasn’t always my strong suit and I struggled with teachers, my learning style and even with homework. It was really hard doing all this school work and learning things that are not related to my future, because I already know what I want to do in life. So when school finally ended, I was happy and relieved to know that I can work on what I love, which is music, and not have school to worry about anymore.

(2) What extracurricular activities did you participate in?

Ben: I have taken part in a few extracurricular activities.  There were two poetry slams.  One was for a contest where I won a $500 scholarship, and the other took place at my school. Also I recited an original work for this black 365 event at my school. I’ve taken the opportunity to participate in my first ever play called “The Women of Lockerbie”. It took about a month to get ready for and people loved me for my first try. Last but not least, I of course train at Syracuse Martial Arts Academy.

(3) What high school accomplishment are you particularly proud of?

Ben: I’m proud of every single extracurricular activity I’ve taken part in, including performing at the Nottingham talent show freshmen year, dancing and rapping at the multicultural festival last year and reciting a poem for this year’s festival.

(4) What are your future plans?

Ben: Right now my plans are to work on my music and build up a following on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and most importantly YouTube.  We are moving to South Carolina in August and I’ll be taking a year off before attending college because of the residency in South Carolina and the college tuition. So in the meantime I’m working on music, vlogging, moving up in martial arts, becoming more consistent in working out, and releasing an album later this year.

(5) How has the martial arts helped you in your life?

Ben: Training in the martial arts has helped me in so many ways.  When it came to going for what I want in life, martial arts helped me keep after it.  No matter the hardship I had to go through, from struggling in the beginning to finding the determination to keep going, I made it through.  Martial arts is a journey in which growth comes and affects you and it makes it all worthwhile.  There were many days when I didn’t feel like training, but I did. I pushed myself to go to class and work hard.  By the time class was over, I felt great and very glad that I had gone to class.  Training at SMAA also taught me to surround myself with other positive people.  There is such a great community at SMAA.  We all may be at different levels in class, but they are there cheering each other on and supporting each other.  I love the brotherhood.  We work out together, struggle together, and achieve our goals, together.  There was so much positive energy.  This is an application for life.  You have to just smile and know that everything will be alright no matter the trial or tribulation. You can’t control everything around you but you can control what you do about it and how you respond.

High School Graduation: Hoang Nguyen

Hoang Nguyen’s High School Graduation with Sifu Eric Winfree (and big brother Montell) 6/23/2016

Hoang Nguyen

(1) What does this graduation mean to you?

Hoang: Graduation for me meant that I’m moving on with life and entering in the real world. I’ve finally succeeded and I will finally be able to learn to live on my own.

(2) What extracurricular activities did you participate in?

Hoang: I participated in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) in connection with Syracuse University, Seeds of Peace, Wrestling, I’ve done Color Guard for ceremonial events during my time in Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Core (NJROTC), yearbook, and tutored.  Is National Honor Society one? Because I did that too.

(3) What high school accomplishment are you particularly proud of?

Hoang: I’m proud that I’ve left my comfort zone and join the wrestling team. I was awarded a ribbon and medal from the Reserve Officer Association and the Theodore Roosevelt youth medal and ribbon from the Navy League of the US plus a $100 check. I also became a Lieutenant Jr. Grade in NJROTC my junior year, joining Seeds of Peace, SHPE, and becoming the Salutatorian of the class of 2016.

(4) What are your future plans?

Hoang: My future plans is attending college at SUNY Oneonta, majoring in computer science so I can learn how to make my own programs and computer software.

(5) How has training in the martial arts helped you?

Hoang: It helped me get fit and increased my reflexes, be more confident in my everyday life. I learned that I shouldn’t be lazy or I’ll get fat again and taught me how to be a better leader.

We wish both of these young men all the best for their futures and remind them that they will always have family in Syracuse.


Jeanne started her martial arts training later in life and has been training at SMAA for over 10 years. She likes all aspects of the martial arts from the physical challenges to the spiritual pursuits of martial etiquette and virtue. She has a master degree in marketing and is currently working on her MBA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *