CLINTON — An early Clinton Central School graduation diploma was awarded this year to a young man who’s life after high school is to answer his nation’s call and enlist in the United States Marine Corps.
Class of 2020 graduate Luke C. Stell was presented his diploma, much to his surprise, on Saturday, June 20, at his home, surrounded by his family and by Dr. Stephen L. Grimm, superintendent. Dr. Matthew Lee, CCS High School principal; Dr. Shaun Carney, middle school principal; teachers Norin Lavender, Amy Doggett and Norm Deep, along with Stell’s guidance counselor, Kelly Zegarelli and Stell’s Marine Corps recruiter, Staff Sgt. Matthew R Martel.
“We assembled in the Elm Street parking lot and casually spoke about a variety of topics, before walking to Luke’s house just a couple of blocks away,” described Dr. Lee.
“The big topic was that Staff Sgt. Martel and I had begun to think that Luke had no idea this was happening,” the principal continued. “On Thursday, Martel had spoken to Luke on the phone. In their conversation, Luke did not mention anything about receiving his diploma on Saturday. However, Luke informed Martel that his mom was having his immediate family over for a chicken barbecue before Luke departed the following Monday, and asked if he would like to come over.”
Lee explained at exactly 1 p.m., the group began their walk to Stell’s home, as Lavender drummed “Semper Fidelis,” the official Marine Corps marching hymn, with Martel in full dress blues uniform, marching in perfect unison with the drum beats as they approached the house.
“We proceeded right to Luke’s backyard where his mother, Tricia Mungo, had set up tents and created a stage and podium,” Lee said. “We were greeted by his immediate family members, which made the event that much more special for us, and especially Luke. It is then that we learned Luke did, in fact, have no idea we were coming. His mother had kept it completely from him.”
Lee said Luke was wearing his cap and gown and was adorned with his National Honor Society cord.
“To ensure he was prepared for our arrival, his mother had made him wear his cap and gown while welcoming his family,” Lee explained.
The principal said he was the first to speak and introduced all of the attendees from the school to Stell’s family. He then informed Luke they were there to celebrate his academic accomplishment of graduating high school and to ensure he received the recognition he deserved, especially since he had made the decision to place the lives of all those around him.
Martel said Stell left for basic training on Monday, June 22, with a two-week quarantine to complete before arriving at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. Due to current pandemic conditions recruits are required to spend the quarantine period at the South Carolina military college, The Citadel, before beginning the formal stage of their 13-week boot-camp training.
Martel also said after Stell’s training is complete on Parris Island, he’ll be going to Marine Combat Training (MCT) at Camp Geiger, a satellite facility of Camp Lejeune in N.C.
Once he’s finished with MCT,” Martel said Stell will be going to Pensacola, Fla. to become an aviation mechanic.”
Martel said he felt one of the things that made Stell a good candidate for their ranks was a good family history in the Marine Corps.
Luke’s older brother, Justin, enlisted in the Marine Corps in January, Martel said.
“I feel Luke wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and get into some kind of mechanical field,” he said. “While his brother will be working on the electronic side of aviation, Luke will be working on the mechanical side of things.”
Lee said he “got lost in the moment” when Dr. Grimm presented Stell with his diploma.
“I watched Luke,” he said. “The excitement on his face, turning to the realization this event was marking the end of a 13-year chapter of his life. He was no longer going to be a student at Clinton Central School. His family watched Luke closely as he stood to the left of Dr. Grimm and I, as I announced his name, and Dr. Grimm presented him with his diploma.”
“I just graduated high school,” Stell said
Lee said Stell then thanked all of the members of the school for coming and hugged his family members.
“Anyone who makes that sacrifice, deserves to be honored in a special manner,” Lee said.