Each year, The Charlotte Observer identifies the brightest young minds from across the region and handpicks 10 as Seniors of the Year.
This years 10, chosen from 141 students nominated as All-Star Scholars by 105 high schools in eight counties, will attend prestigious universities across the nation. Their views have been molded by a range of experiences: volunteer work, tutoring peers, growing up overseas in a poverty-stricken nation, living with a chronic illness.
But the one issue each can relate to is the importance of education.
You can do anything through education, said Anna Paschall, a senior at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia. Shes headed to N.C. State in the fall as a Park Scholar, planning to specialize in forensics and become an FBI agent. You never lose your education. It stays with you forever.
She passed along that gift to other young people through science programs she created at the Schiele Museum and Boys and Girls Club, striving to get them interested in science, and relate it to what theyre learning in school. (One way she did it: Gak. She used the slimy play compound to teach kids about molecules in different states of matter.)
Her work in the community, she believes, was the key to her becoming a Senior of the Year.
The selection process for the honor begins at high schools in the Observer readerships core areas. School counselors name top students one per 100 in the senior class based on academic performance, character and civic involvement. These are the Observers All-Star Scholars. Within that group, counselors designate one as their schools Senior of the Year candidate. Those students are asked to submit an essay, and a field of finalists is chosen by the Observer. Thirty-four were brought in for personal interviews this year, and the 10 winners each receive a $1,000 scholarship.
The program began in the 1950s, created by The Charlotte News, and was taken over by the Observer when the News ceased publication.
It is an honor and a privilege to put a spotlight on our future leaders, said Observer Publisher Ann Caulkins. I am always inspired and awed when I read about these students. They are already changing the world in very interesting and impressive ways.
And they are only just beginning. Like approaching cancer as a puzzle, as Amanda Hu from Providence High plans to do at the University of Pennsylvania. Every time scientists come up with a novel idea or fact, (the puzzle) changes, she said. I think because cancer is a disease that is able to adapt, we have to constantly think of ways to attack it.
Education is that first line of attack.
Education is important because it allows you to do what you want in life, said Hu, who has done research at Johns Hopkins and spent this year as director of Providences peer mentor program. And its really important to help educate others and help spread the wealth of knowledge ... because you could open up a door for them.
For Kelechukwu KC Emezie, a senior at Marvin Ridge High in Waxhaw, education equals treasure.
Emezie grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, until the age of 5. I didnt have access to computers or textbooks, and kidnapping threats kept us out of school, he said.
As he wrote in his application essay, in a country rife with crime and poverty, I was unable to freely access knowledge.
Thats all different now. He plans to attend the California Institute of Technology, hopes to become an engineer and is most excited to be named a Senior of the Year because it helps him share his story with others. I hope to spread the value of education to students in need.
His advice to young people: Stay in school because so many other opportunities will open up if you just push through.
Penland: 704-358-6043; Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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