Meet 16 of 31 finalists for The Observer's Seniors of the Year, an award that goes to 10 seniors each year and carries with it a $1,000 scholarship. Each year, school counselors throughout the Observer area nominate seniors for academic performance, character and community service. From about 140 All-Stars, representing about 90 schools in eight counties, the Observer chooses finalists to interview personally. Today's group, from schools outside Mecklenburg, joins 15 from Mecklenburg, who will appear here next week. We will announce the 10 winners May 26.
Fort Mill High
College: Clemson Honors College.
Parents: Gopal and Mathi Mohan.
Highlight: Class president in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.
His words: "I like to lead, but people won't follow you blindly. I like to help, too. That way people can see me out doing work, too ... I hope to have a national political career."
His momento: A booklet from S.C. Boys State, where he ran for governor and won, campaigning in a student body of 900.
College: Salem College.
Parents: Rhonda and Eric Hill.
Highlight: Helped start the Piedmont High Honors History society, and led an effort that raised $1,000 to save historic buildings in Union County. Works with Loaves & Fishes.
Her words: "I persevere. When I start something I go 110 percent and I finish 110 percent."
Her momento: Her first colonial outfit, from a family visit to Historic Williamsburg, Va.
College: Winthrop University.
Parents: Frances Melton and the late Ken Melton.
Highlight: Student Council, Beta Club, Future Educators Association, Fellowship of Christian Athletes; tutoring.
Her words: "Find something you love to do and do it. But make sure it's something you'll be proud of."
Her memento: A T-shirt from Palmetto Girls State, a weeklong program in which students set up a mock government. She ran for state house and was elected.
College: East Carolina.
Parents: Juan and E'lisa Guarda.
Highlight: She studied abroad for a year in Chile, where she lived with six families and attended two high schools.
Her words: "I want to be an orthodontist ... I want to be someone who helps someone in some way ... I want to give everyone a smile."
Her memento: A ring her mom gave her when she was a freshman that she's never taken off. "My dad gave the ring to my mom ... So it's like I have a piece of my mom and my dad."
College: Duke University.
Parents: Scott and Nancy Duncan.
Highlight: Senior class president; created a computer lab at Monroe Middle School.
His words: "I'm a leader who's willing to listen. Being elected is one thing ... You're elected because of what you say, but you have to listen."
His memento: His student identification card, because he's a member of the first class ever to attend the school from kindergarten through senior year.
College: Emory University.
Parents: Debbie and David Lancaster.
Highlight: Four-year captain of golf team; started Cougar Crazies, a drug- and alcohol-free group to build camaraderie and school spirit.
His words: "I'm not an outspoken leader. I know when to sit back and I know when to step up. I can lead or I can sit back and help."
His memento: A driver. "A driver was not my strong club. There was room for improvement. That was like in school: I always wanted to learn more. I have that zest. I'm eager to learn."
Marvin Ridge High
College: University of Virginia, as an Echols Scholar.
Parents: Wes and Gigi Kessenich.
Highlight: Mu Alpha Theta, Beta Club, Science Olympiad, volunteered in Chilean orphanage.
Her words: "Success means fulfilling your whole potential. It doesnt mean making a whole lot of money."
Her memento: A trophy from a Future Business Leaders of America national competition; her school placed sixth. The team is headed to Anaheim, Calif., in July for more competition.
College University of South Carolina.
Parents: Malia and Rick Davis.
Highlight: Student body president; varsity cross country, swimming and golf; Eagle Scout.
His words: "Family and school come first, then sports, then Boy Scouts. (School) is going to get me further in life than hitting a golf ball or swimming 50 meters."
His memento: The William E. Unverfehrt award, which he received at his previous school for exemplifying Christian qualities of character, including helping others.
A.L. Brown High
College: Yale University.
Parents: Sherrie and Jim Perusek.
Highlight: National Technical Honor Society; track and swim teams; founder of Students Supporting Our Troops.
Her words: On her decision to start swimming the summer before her freshman year: "Academics always came relatively easy, but I was never naturally athletic ... Opening my world to other sports forced me to try new things."
Her memento: The ACT high school award for her cumulative score of 35 of 36. "It was a culmination of everything I'd worked for."
Northwest Cabarrus High
College: Elon University.
Parents: Kevin and Kendra Kruse.
Highlight: Beta Club, varsity swim team, AWSUM service club secretary.
Her words: "No matter how much fun (you have, you) need time for community service."
Her memento: A photo of her with school backpack and dance and swim bags. "School taught me to work toward and to set goals. ... Dance taught me poise, grace and to hold myself with confidence. Swim taught me if you don't put hard work in, you won't get anything out of it."
Hickory Ridge High
College: UNC Chapel Hill.
Parents: Rebecca Thompson and the late Wilson Thompson.
Highlight: Student Council, Beta Club, homecoming queen.
Her words: Since the death of her father in September, "I've had the realization I have to make the most of life and not take people for granted. It's shaped me into a stronger, more compassionate person."
Her memento: The Hickory Ridge yearbook from her junior year, when she was co-editor.
College: Davidson College.
Parents: Joe and Angela Gass.
Highlight: Valedictorian; president of Environmental Club; cross country team, track team; volunteer for Special Olympics.
Her words: "You need to be able to use your time wisely. Otherwise you get overwhelmed, and it's not fun when it catches up to you."
Her memento: A sudoku book she's carried with her since ninth grade. The margins are full of notes from class and life: "It's been a constant in my life. I can look back in it and remember (specific) times."
South Iredell High
College: Brigham Young University.
Parents: Christine and Dana Tucker.
Highlight: Beta Club, varsity tennis, Eagle Scout, One of 30 students chosen for Japan cultural exchange program.
His words: On his time in Japan: "I was there three weeks and was probably looking at it as a spectator/tourist. But it gave me a little more insight into different cultures and ways of thinking we don't see when we stay here."
His memento: International Baccalaureate "Thinker" and "Reflective" awards.
College: Furman University.
Parents: Phil and Jane Painter.
Highlight: Senior class president, mock trial team captain, yearbook editor, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award.
Her words: On working at Camp Joy: "It was the first time I'd been exposed to the special-needs community. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life ... (But) I found my true passion."
Her memento: A photo of her mock trial team: "You learn to think critically, logically and confidently."
Highland School of Technology
College: N.C. State University.
Parents: John and Marlo Scheitler.
Highlight: National Achievement Scholar, AP Scholar Award, tutor and drama club adviser at Southwest Middle School.
Her words: "I learned to do what you enjoy doing, not just stuff to put on an application. If you do what you love, you'll be successful."
Her memento: A CD of the song she created for her favorite volunteer organization, the Technology Student Association.
East Gaston High
College: Appalachian State University.
Parents: Rita Paluszak and the late Charles Paluszak.
Highlight: Section leader and drum major with the marching band, director of the school's fall play 2012, youth and music ministries at church.
His words: "You always realize things when they're about to end."
His memento: His drum major cape and shako (plumed band hat). "Marching band for me got me into high school. I always felt comfortable in the band room or on the field."
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