Editorial: Former Tri-Citian’s Tony-winning message is good lesson for new graduates

After a weekend full of Tri-City high school graduations, there was something especially fitting about our own Santino Fontana winning his first Tony on Sunday.

Commencement speeches tend to follow the same encouraging lines: Follow your heart. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up on your dreams.

And then, like an exclamation point, Fontana, a 2000 Richland High School grad, really did make his dream come true on Broadway’s biggest night, reinforcing the positive message this year’s senior class had been hearing repeatedly.

Whatever it is you want to pursue, pursue it.

The world may not make it easy for you. You may be told to take a different path because it’s more practical, steadier and safer.

But if it isn’t really what you want, don’t do it. Too many possibilities await for those determined enough to find them.

Just think of Fontana. He was once a kid growing up in the Tri-Cities, and now look at him.

He just won the 2019 Tony for the best lead actor in a musical for his performance in “Tootsie,” and this was his second Tony nomination. In 2013, he was nominated for his role as Prince Charming in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”

“Tootsie” is Fontana’s ninth Broadway show, but he also has worked in TV and film, notably as the voice of the villain Prince Hans in the Disney movie “Frozen,” which has a sequel scheduled for release in November.

But he got his start locally.

Fontana was active in the Tri-Cities Academy of Children’s Theater and was in the Columbia Basin College musical production of “Oliver” in 1994.

His mother told the Tri-City Herald that he also performed in nearly every production put on by Richland High. But he wasn’t just into acting. He also played baseball and was the Associated Student Body president.

After graduation he left home to attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as part of the Guthrie Theater program. After earning his degree in fine arts he moved to New York.

And he’s been working at his craft ever since.

In his acceptance speech Sunday night, Fontana paid tribute to his late grandmother, Thelma Simarro, who inspired him in his role as Dorothy Michaels in “Tootsie.”

Santino Fontana, center, and the cast of Tootsie, performs at the 73rd annual Tony Awards on Sunday. Charles Sykes Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

He also thanked his family “back in Washington state” for always supporting him and never telling him no — especially his parents, Sharon and Ernie Fontana in Richland. He also thanked his 92-year-old grandfather, Tony Simarro in Kennewick, for “telling me I can.”

Those are inspiring words, and it is wonderful that Fontana had so many people encouraging him to become the actor he is today.

“You can” is also the message our graduating high school seniors need to take to heart. Persevere and go for your goals.

This is not just commencement advice. It’s a message that can change your life.