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Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame opening has celebrities, athletes attend

Inductee Renee Felice Smith, a 2003 graduate and

Inductee Renee Felice Smith, a 2003 graduate and actress starring on CBS' "NCIIS: Los Angeles," speaks with students interested in the performing arts in the school's choral room at Patchogue-Medford High School on Friday, May 6, 2016. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Patchogue-Medford High School is a long way from Hollywood, and even farther from Latvia.

But the distance was not so great on Friday, when some of the school’s most prominent alumni — such as actors Kevin Connolly and Renee Felice Smith and U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Nancy Bikoff Pettit — visited and encouraged students to dream big.

Smith, Pettit and Connolly were among a diverse group of former students and teachers picked to be the first members of the school’s new hall of fame.

The other inductees included Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman; U.S. District Judge Denise Jefferson Casper; Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri; Olympic steeplechaser Anthony Famiglietti; former Sports Illustrated editor John Papanek; and the school’s undefeated 1977 football team.

Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005, and late teacher and civil rights activist W. Burghardt Turner, who died in 2009, were inducted posthumously.

Some inductees and their families met with students Friday morning.

Wearing a black pork pie hat, Smith, 31, who stars in CBS’ “NCIS: Los Angeles,” said she was cast as analyst Nell Jones because she looked the part.

“I wasn’t the typical leading lady,” Smith said. “You have to say, that’s that person, I’m my person.”

Papanek, 64, explained to aspiring journalists how he successfully pitched plans for Sports Illustrated for Kids. He introduced former assistant football coach Sam Stahlman, 91, of Patchogue, who brought some students to tears as he talked about serving in World War II.

After listening to Papanek and Stahlman, student Bailey Logan, 18, a senior from Patchogue, said it was “flattering that they found the time to come back and speak to us.”

Senior Dan Marzagalli, 18, of Patchogue, said he was especially moved by Stahlman.

“Seeing them and hearing their stories is really demonstrative of what you can achieve from this school,” he said.

Murphy’s father, Dan Murphy, displayed for students the Medal of Honor awarded to his son, the subject of the movie “Lone Survivor.” Students also met Pontieri, Famiglietti, Casper, members of Turner’s family.

Stroman — who pitched Friday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Toronto — sent a video that was to be shown at the induction ceremony.

Pettit, 62, said students asked how she might be affected by the presidential election. She assured them she would keep her job no matter who wins.

“I was impressed by the diversity of the students and their broad range of interests and their wonderful questions,” said Pettit, whose husband, Jim Pettit, is U.S. ambassador to Moldova. “I told them to dream big and to know it’s possible to do whatever you want to do with hard work.”

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