Students, Former Teachers Watch Kennedy Grad Receive Highest Honor
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Seven or eight years ago, Sal Giunta was just an average student at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. One teacher recalled he was prone to cutting up in her class and having fun. But on Tuesday, as students and formers teachers watched the Medal of Honor ceremony from the oval office, it was obvious how much had changed.
One class Giunta took at a senior at Kennedy was World Humanities and Composition. Language arts instructor Michelle Frey was the teacher then and is still teaching the same class now. On Tuesday, current students watched history with a local twist as a Kennedy Cougar received the nation’s highest award for valor.
Frey remembers Giunta always sat in the front of the class and participated in class discussions. But he didn’t always do his homework on time.
Frey said “I’m sure we had to have a couple ‘come to Jesus’ meetings out in the hallway because he was…well, he could be a handful like his parents said.”
A number of classes at Giunta’s former high school took a break from regular class work to watch the ceremony on television. The President got a big laugh with the line “I’m going to go off script and say I really like this guy.”
That brought a smile to his old teacher’s face because Frey said that perfectly summed up the Sal she remembered at Kennedy.
“You just like him—there’s not an unlikeable bone in his body,” Frey said.
Only one student in the class this day had a older sibling who attended with the nation’s first living Medal of Honor winner since the Vietnam War. Trudy Wagner said she asked her brother about Giunta. “He was in classes with him—he got along pretty well,” she reported.
Other students have heard stories from teachers who remembered the Army staff sergeant as a high schooler. Seeing it all unfold on Tuesday, and knowing the local connection, they couldn’t help but be impressed.
Student Jonathan Jenkins said “knowing he walked the same halls that we do—that was pretty cool.” Jordan Anderson, another student, said “it made me think like, could one of us, the next 10-12 years, do something amazing like that?”
In interviews, Giunta has repeatedly described himself as an average soldier. Former teacher Frey said that label probably applied to his high school grades as well. But she said after this, she has a new appreciation for the word “average.”
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