After a three year delay due to COVID, the Suffield Foundation for Excellent Schools (SFES) will induct its Class of 2020 into the SFES Hall of Honor. The Hall was established in 2003 primarily to recognize Suffield High School graduates who have achieved noteworthy success in their chosen fields, but also to inspire current students. In addition to the six honorees, an “Excellence in Education” award is simultaneously given to a retired educator who has taught for at least 10 years in the Suffield Public School system and has had a profound impact on students.
An assembly will be held at SHS on Friday, May 19, to present the awards and give recipients an opportunity to address the student body. Plans are underway for a noon luncheon which will be open to the public. Location, cost and reservations to attend can be made on the SFES website.
An ad hoc committee of community members and SFES Board members made the selections from the nominations received. Since the award is given only once every four years, the decision making process is difficult given the number of successful SHS graduates, but the present awardees are indeed deserving of the honor. Although a brief biography of the individuals follows, a more detailed description of their accomplishments can be found by clicking the Hall of Honor link on www.sfes.org.
Barry Armata, Class of 1977, graduated from Boston College in 1981 and received a law degree from Syracuse College of Law in 1983. At Boston College he developed an improvisation group, My Mother’s Fleabag, which launched many professional comedians’ careers. He was a partner in a law firm specializing in family law and has served as chair of both the Connecticut and Hartford County Bar Association’s Family Law Sections and was named to the Parenting Education Advisory Committee. He has been designated a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and was named a James W. Cooper Fellow by the Connecticut Bar Foundation as well as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence named him one of the first 100 Men Working to Improve the Lives of Domestic Violence Victims. A published author, Barry has lectured at multiple law schools and colleges and has contributed Amicus Curiae briefs on significant family law including Kerrigan v Commissioner of Public Health which legalized same sex marriage in Connecticut. He has developed and produced major educational programs on domestic violence, opioid addiction, systemic racism, and problems faced by veterans’ families. He also helped create a nationally recognized speaker’s series on systemic racism and racial inequality. He was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2017.
Kiley Gosselin, Class of 1998 graduated from Rice University in 2002 and UConn Law in 2008. Her area of expertise is affordable housing and homelessness policy. She began her career working for the National Alliance to End Homelessness as a field organizer. After graduating law school, Kiley became an associate in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Syndication Group at Holland & Knight LLP where she represented investors in affordable housing development finance structuring. There she interpreted tax code and statutory requirements for low-income housing tax credits and other government finance programs for application in affordable housing developments across the country. She served as a Management and Program Analyst with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness where she coordinated federal policy efforts around the areas of mainstream housing, and family and youth homelessness as a liaison between that agency and multiple federal agencies. In 2016, she led the City of Hartford’s Development Services, overseeing new housing development projects as well as multiple community investment projects including the renovation of Dillon Stadium. She was Executive Director of the Partnership for Strong Communities, a statewide affordable housing policy and advocacy group from 2018 to 2023 and is now the CEO of the Housing Development Fund, a community development financial institution that invests in multiple types of affordable housing, including home ownership, in Conn., N.Y. and Mass.
Daniel Presser, Class of 2001, graduated in 2005 from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University with a BS in Broadcast Journalism.
An eight time Emmy winner, he started his career in 2005 as a PA (production assistant) and Associate Producer at ESPN working on Sunday NFL Countdown producing highlights, cutting video, researching events and training new PAs in addition to producing Images of the Year in 2007 and 2010.
In 2010, he traveled to South Africa to cover the Soccer World Cup. Recruited in 2011 by the MLB and NHL networks as a producer, Dan produced live daily studio shows such as Hot Stove, Quick Pitch and NHL Tonight, and traveled to three World Series to produce MLB Network’s playoff coverage. He also produced the live MLB draft for two years.
In 2019, he returned to Bristol to help launch the ACC network, a division of ESPN, and is the head producer in charge of staff, programming, daily and season long recap shows. In 2020, Dan personally launched Quarantine 2020 Productions, in which he filmed his toddler children in iconic movie clips. A few of the over 50 clips included celebrities such as Will Smith, Jimmy Kimmel, Bob Costas, Dr. J and J.J. Reddick. Dan used the clips to raise over $80,000 for Feeding America, thereby providing 800,000 meals to families in need during the COVID pandemic.
Brian Claughsey, Class of 2002, graduated from WNEC in 2006 with a BS in Business Management and after joining the Air Force a MA in International Relations from University of Oklahoma. His military career began in 2008 as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Specialist where he taught Special Operators and aviators how to survive for weeks at a time. Retraining as a Combat Controller, he was responsible for the assessment and establishment of austere airfields as well as providing Joint Terminal Attack Control services to Army Special Forces. In 2015, his team was charged with retaking the fallen city of Kunduz, Afghanistan. They endured several near, complex ambushes before gaining a foothold in the city where they engaged in a four-day firefight. Brian coordinated over 27 airstrikes which helped eventually liberate the city from Taliban control. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry. After Afghanistan, he was assigned to the 321st Special Tactics Squadron in England as a Special Tactics Officer where he led a program that established the NATO standard for Combat Control. He also served as a Flight Commander, leading a Special Ops team throughout Eastern Europe to build partnership capacity in readiness for our allies’ conflict with Russia. Brian currently serves as Director of Operations, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron in Florida where he leads and coordinates Special Ops activities across five continents. He has deployed several times to the Middle East and Eastern Europe to support NATO operations. In addition to the Silver Star, he has received the Bronze Star, the AF Commendation (4 Oak Leaf clusters) and the AF Combat Action Medal.
Michael Chase, Class of 2003, graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2007 and the UConn School of Law in 2011. Upon graduation from UCF Film School, Michael wrote and directed documentaries and feature films in L.A. until deciding to go to law school. He clerked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. working on federal criminal trials and graduated law school with high honors earning awards for the top performance in seven areas. He entered private practice as a litigation attorney in the Government Investigations and White Collar Criminal Defense group and became a partner in 2019. He has conducted high profile political investigations and also represented indigent clients in federal criminal matters. He is a nationally recognized expert on issues of criminal justice reform and has spoken at Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival and frequently appears as a commentator on national TV and radio to discuss the federal criminal justice system. He has written a New York Times reviewed and critically acclaimed book How to Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook for the Aspiring Offender in 2019 which climbed to the top 100 books on Amazon. His Twitter feed @CrimeADay is followed by 130,000 people and has been featured in Time, Forbes, CNN, Newsweek and others. In 2020, he became Senior Counsel to a Fortune 4 company advising on antitrust and government litigation matters.
Leigha Hancock, Class of 2004, was an NCAA Division I gymnast for North Carolina State University from which she graduated with a BA in Communication Media in 2008. She was named Rookie of the Year in her conference freshman year and Southeast Regional Gymnast of the year, Wolfpack Athlete of the Year and Conference Senior Gymnast of the Year as a senior.
As a sophomore she qualified for the NCAA championships as an individual on the Floor exercise and as a Senior on the balance beam. Upon graduation she headed west where she worked as an acrobat in live shows at SeaWorld and began a position as a stunt double for three seasons on the ABC show Make It or Break It about elite gymnasts vying for an Olympic berth. From there she worked on movies such as The Hunger Games, playing Tribute District #7, A Quiet Place Part I and II, Finding Ohana, and many others which are listed on her IMDB page.
Returning to Connecticut she graduated from the University of St. Joseph with a degree in Dietetics. She specializes in inpatient eating disorders at Rockville General Hospital and geriatrics at the Suffield House, while still moonlighting as a stunt double. She has jumped 20 feet into piles of corn, stepped through four trap doors, been “killed” many times, fallen through ice, a volcanic lava tube, and down a waterfall in Thailand. Most recently she tripped over a log and fell 12 feet off a cliff to her character’s death.
Harrison Griffin was chosen for the educator award. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1966 with a BS degree. After spending eight months as an exchange student in New Zealand, he returned home and received his MA in Education from UConn and began teaching at the SHS Vocational Agriculture Center. He left Suffield High School to be Director at the Rockville Agriscience Center for 13 years before eventually returning to Suffield as the Director and teacher in the Suffield Regional Agriscience Center. He was proud of his agricultural heritage and happy to share this love for science and the trades. He was instrumental in the design and development of the new regional center to include aquaculture, natural resources, plant science, animal science and agricultural mechanics receiving students from 10 towns. The new large animal facility and the ag extension property with a connecting bridge were his dream come true after writing many grants. As an educator, Harrison helped students gain agricultural knowledge while also developing their leadership skills through the FFA organization. He has served as coordinator of the FFA Regional Stars Program for fifty-four years. Harrison is the ninth generation to operate, with his wife Carol, his West Suffield farm, which was established in 1647 as a dairy farm and is presently an organic vegetable business. He received his Honorary American FFA Degree in 2007 and a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Agricultural Educators in 2017. Harrison retired after 37 years of teaching.