Class of '17: John Rennie valedictorian draws inspiration from Rocky Balboa

As students across Montreal gather for their convocations over the next few weeks, Shari Okeke will be featuring class valedictorians on Daybreak.

If you know a valedictorian we should feature, send an email to

It’s a big night for graduating students at John Rennie High School in Pointe Claire: their convocation.

The room is filled with teens in caps and gowns, proud parents taking photos, a whole lot of memories and probably some tissues. 

Shari Okeke kicks off Daybreak‘s series with Sam Panarinfo, the 2017 valedictorian at her alma mater, John Rennie.

How would you describe yourself?

I know it sounds a little bad, but I’m a jock.

I’ve always been into sports. I’ve played hockey since I was three or four years old; I’ve played ultimate frisbee, touch football, soccer, I’m a weight lifter, I won best athlete for my school.

I love everything that involves me challenging myself physically, but also I’m considered to be a good student.

I’ve made honour roll every term of high school. I haven’t really let sports or work get in the way of that. 

Sam Panarinfo

Sam Panarinfo plans to study business at John Abbott College but said ‘bodybuilding or powerlifting, I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s my true passion.’ (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Why do you say ‘it sounds bad’ to be a jock?

You don’t necessarily think of a hockey player that plays four or five different sports and doesn’t really win any academic-based awards to be a valedictorian.

You usually think of somebody with straight As across the board.

What message will you share with your classmates?

The speech will be dedicated to memories we made as a graduating class.


second message is about always keeping a positive outlook. The big message is to keep moving forward, regardless of what you’re doing in life.

Don’t ever stop what you’re doing. You could be moving at a mile a minute or a mile in three hours. Just as long as you’re moving forward, you’re still getting somewhere.

Part of Panarinfo’s speech is inspired by a speech from the movie Rocky Balboa.

‘Keep moving forward,’ says Sam Panarinfo0:44

How did you become valedictorian?

My girlfriend, grade 10 student Ariana Di Nardo, encouraged me and motivated me to apply.

I wrote a speech, and luckily I was one of four finalists. Then when the finalists performed the speeches, my delivery was, I guess, good enough to be chosen for valedictorian, so here I am. 

Ariana Di Nardo and Sam Panarinfo

‘Sam’s an all and all very good student, and he doesn’t really promote himself for it,’ said Ariana Di Nardo, who persuaded Panarinfo to try out the role of high school valedictorian. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

How did you react when you found out?

I was very shocked. I didn’t think I would actually win. I was just grateful.

The three other finalists would have done a fantastic job, every single one of them.

Being chosen means a whole lot to me because you can literally change someone’s outlook on life with a speech, and if I can do that for someone, in a positive way, that just makes me happy. 

What special moments are you looking back on?

I mention a couple of my best friends.

My girlfriend being such a strong person, she always keeps me on track. I always keep her on track: we just kind of balance each other out.

Any time I needed a little counselling or somebody to talk to this year, my mom’s there, my dad’s there.

Something that really stands out to me is that my dad and I always come to the gym together. He’s my gym buddy.

My mom, she makes me proud every day. I hopefully make her proud every day. I just love my family.

What’s next for you, after graduation?

No clue. I’m going to John Abbott College to study business. Hopefully that pans into something, but the one thing I do know is bodybuilding or powerlifting is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

It’s my true passion.

Do you know a valedictorian who CBC Daybreak should feature? Send an email to

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