Jake Sommer (inset) spoke at 2022 WHS Graduation, remembering his friend George DiRocco, who died September 2020. The DiRocco family was awarded George's diploma before the larger Class of 2022 graduation ceremony. (Jake Sommer photo—GMW/DiRocco Family photo courtesy of Artie DiRocco)

“Good afternoon. To the Class of 2022, faculty, friends, family, and distinguished guests, it is an honor to speak to you today about one of our classmates and my dear friend, George DiRocco. For those of you that do not know me, my name is Jake Sommer and George was my friend, teammate and classmate.

“On Sept. 21, 2020, George unexpectedly passed away due to an undetected heart condition, and our class, school and community were devastated. We all lost a piece of our hearts that day. But something amazing happened to our community and class when George passed away. At a time when we had been isolated and struggling to find normalcy as a class due to COVID, George found a way to bring us all together. Immediately, our class made a memorial for George in the junior parking lot and held nightly vigils to comfort each other, and talk about George and his memory. It was not only therapeutic for our class, but also for the extended community. During that time, students who didn’t know George the way his friends did, quickly realized what an amazing individual he was.

“When I think about George and what I love most about him, three things come to mind. First: you don’t have to be big to be impactful. George was not big in any way, but he made a big impact on those he was close to. George was impactful because he was genuine. He cared, he listened and he was fun to be around. Secondly: you don’t have to be loud to be heard. George connected with people. He wasn’t loud or boisterous. He had no barriers or hidden agendas, and people loved him for that. Finally: always be humble and be kind. George treated people the way he wanted to be treated — with respect. I loved that about George.

“And when I think about the lessons George’s death taught our class, this becomes a much more personal and emotional matter. He taught us that sometimes the toughest lessons in life are the lessons you learn through personal tragedy. George taught us that life is sometimes not fair, even for the good guys. But George also taught us how to open our hearts and be there for each other. That healing is a process and takes time.

“I’m proud of the 2022 Class for the way we embrace each other like never before. When I reflect on how our class overcame this tragedy, I quickly realize we did it together and that we needed each other to heal our souls.

“And as a class school and community, how we decided to honor George was truly remarkable. First, the Wilton Warrior Gridiron Club established the George DiRocco Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is presented annually to a Wilton High School football player who displays dependability, integrity, leadership, and compassion for others. This year’s recipient was Max Silva. Secondly the George DiRocco Memorial at Guy Whitten Field created by the Class of 2022. Thirdly, the George DiRocco Bench at Schenck’s Island made by love by Ashley Masterson. And finally, the George DiRocco baseball dugout dedicated by Coach Egan and the team.

“All these tributes and memorials could not have been accomplished without the help and support of the DiRocco family. To the DiRocco family, George was the ultimate warrior because he was raised by warriors. Your family has always been a pillar of strength. Even in the darkest of days, you have been there for me, friends and community, and for that, you’ll be revered and loved.

“George is with us today. We can all feel his presence. He may have shown up a little bit late because he was up all night playing Fortnite, but he’s here and wouldn’t miss his graduation because he knows how important this is to you.

“To the Class of 2022, this morning, the DiRocco family was awarded George’s graduation diploma in a private ceremony with Dr. Smith, Dr. O’Donnell and Debbie Low. We are proud that the DiRocco family has George’s diploma on this very important day to our class.

“To Coach Artie, I will always love you for being authentically you. Thank you for always looking out for me, even when things were not so easy. Don’t be afraid to lean on my shoulders the way I have leaned on yours. And when you’re out in the Midwest, dropping Tori off in Indiana, never forget that you will have a home in South Bend.

“To George, I love you and miss you very much. And when I think about you and your journey, I am reminded of a poem by Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken.’ And in that poem, there is an excerpt that beautifully describes your 16-year journey: ‘Two roads diverged in the wood. And I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’ George, you truly did take the road less traveled by, and you have impacted our lives forever. We will never forget you.

“And finally, to the Class of 2022, as we close this chapter of our lives and embark on our new journeys, take a moment to reflect in what George taught us. Be humble, be kind, and lead with your hearts, and always remember once a Warrior, always a Warrior. Thank you.”

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