A decade after reaching the head of the classes

Catching up with valedictorians from the class of 1999

Catching up with valedictorians from the class of 1999

June 07, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

A rocket scientist for NASA, a master control operator for C-SPAN, a high school math teacher, moms, dads.

These are just some of the ways to describe the valedictorian class of 1999.

It's been 10 years since they graduated at the top of their classes. We wondered, What are they up to now?

We attempted to track down valedictorians from Washington County schools to see if they would share their stories.

For the most part, we were successful.

We found 11 valedictorians willing to update us on their lives since high school, including three co-valedictorians from Williamsport High School.

Here are their stories.

Rocket scientist on the run

Bryan Matonak is a rocket scientist.

Matonak, co-valedictorian of Williamsport High's class of 1999, is a thermal engineer for NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., a job he got three months ago.


His current project is a global precipitation measurement satellite that will eventually have a low-earth orbit.

His job is to design and analyze thermal control systems for satellites and components for use in space, where the temperature can range from minus 270 degrees Celsius (minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit) to 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit). A typical electronics box on Earth needs to be kept at a temperature range of 32 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

He worked for Swales Aerospace, which went on to become a part of ATK Space Systems. There, he worked on a gamma ray large area space telescope - now called Fermi - that was launched into orbit via rocket in June 2008.

Matonak's interest in engineering stems from his fondness and proficiency for math and science, something he picked up from his father, Dan, a structural engineer and owner of a Hagerstown engineering firm.

Bryan Matonak began working for NASA while studying physics and math at Salisbury University. Matonak had an internship and did a research project for NASA at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Matonak, who did cross country and tennis in high school, likes to play golf, and compete in triathlons and half-marathons.

He plans to participate in a triathlon at Marty Snook Park in Halfway on July 27, but he won't be too worried about his time. His high school reunion is the previous evening.

"I'm probably not too worried about time and performance, because I'll be hanging out at the high school reunion," said Matonak, 28, who lives in Annapolis.

Teaching is a lightbulb moment

Amy Wagaman got interested in teaching as an undergrad at Kenyon College in central Ohio. She had tutored students while she was a student at St. Maria Goretti High School, and she continued tutoring at Kenyon.

"I like seeing the light bulb going off in my students' heads and figuring out 10 million ways to explain something," said Wagaman, Goretti's 1999 valedictorian.

After double-majoring in math and anthropology at Kenyon, Wagaman went to University of Michigan for her doctorate in statistics.

Now she's an assistant professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Wagaman, 27, lives close to campus and hopes to buy a house once she gets tenure.

She played volleyball for the Gaels, but has switched to archery. Wagaman learned target archery as a youth in summer camp, and she found it a good stress reliever in grad school.

Working with children and becoming vegetarian

Since graduating from Grace Academy, Laura Rushing has become a wife, mother and vegetarian and discovered she likes working with children.

She attended Cedarville University in Ohio, where she met her future husband, David Gross, on a Habitat for Humanity trip to build houses in Mississippi during spring break.

After graduating, Laura returned to Washington County and took a job at Brook Lane's school for kids with emotional or behavioral issues. At Brook Lane's Laurel Hall, she helped students in the classroom.

Three years later, she became assistant children's librarian at the Washington County Free Library. Working with kids at the library became a passion.

"That was probably, oh, my wake-up call. This is what I'm really good at," said Gross, 27, who lives in Hagerstown.

Gross took some time away from working after her son, Elijah, was born. He was born the day the final Harry Potter book was released.

"My husband actually picked up the book while I was in labor," said Gross, who added she still gives David a hard time about that.

Gross became assistant director at a crisis pregnancy center in Waynesboro, Pa., in April.

Gross said she went back and forth during college between being a vegetarian and eating chicken and fish. At Washington County Free Library, several of her co-workers were vegetarians. After giving it some consideration, Gross determined it would be a healthier choice.

Her husband is not a vegetarian.

"He is very gracious and he eats what I prepare here at home and whenever we go out he gets a steak as big as his face," she laughed.

Doctoral candidate and mother of three

Sarah (Jardeleza) Winger's life just got even busier.

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