They aspire to be doctors, scientists, engineers and teachers. But what stands out most about the 2016 Charlotte Observer Seniors of the Year is what they have accomplished.
Two created programs to help teach girls about engineering. Another helped start a prom for people with disabilities. And a third uses his art to advocate for the LBGT community.
What inspired them? Teachers and family, more than anything. But the aspirations of the Class of 2016 also took root in their own experiences.
Sara Dworak’s career calling was influenced by a childhood illness. The Hopewell High School salutatorian said severe childhood ear infections left her with advanced hearing loss and speech problems. Her hearing returned after surgery, but it took 10 years of therapy for her to speak clearly.
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She wants to become a physician specializing in disorders of the ear, nose and throat -- working with Doctors Without Borders to help people around the world who might not have easy access to medical care.
Marlena Heracklis of Forestview High School, also an Observer scholarship recipient, started “Night to Shine,” a prom for young people with disabilities. Her inspiration: Her own brother, who has autism.
“It changed my life,” she said of the prom. “Just the smiles on their faces.... I love caring for others...”
Service to others was a dominant theme for this year’s honorees, said Observer Publisher Ann Caulkins.
“They are bright, creative, passionate young people who are amazingly grounded and mature for their ages,” Caulkins said. “There is no question they will accomplish great things in their lives. Most impressive is their care for others and their commitment to service.”
In interviews, many students spoke of how they wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
Concord High School’s Brandon Moore has long wanted to be a teacher. “As a kid I always played teacher,” he said. “I would teach my teddy bears.”
Now he wants to be an English teacher, and he’s undeterred by the prospect of low pay, a persistent concern of many in the profession. “Helping students and helping our future and the world is more important than a paycheck,” he said.
East Mecklenburg High’s Madeline Garcia noticed that girls are underrepresented in engineering programs. “When you take a poll in middle school, a lot of girls say they want to be a lawyer or doctor,” Madeline said. “They don’t know what engineering is.”
So Madeline co-founded Girls Engineer, a program through which she and a classmate brought exciting activities, even bottle rockets, to middle school girls. Madeline said she hopes girls will see broader career options.
Parker Greaves of Olympic-Rennaisance School of Arts and Technology has found ways to combine his passions for art and human rights. As a transgender student, his artwork often expresses themes that advocate for tolerance and acceptance.
His entry for the 2015 Congressional Art Competition, a national high school contest, was a drawing of a transgender man. It conveys Greaves’ belief that transgender people should be accepted as they are.
As they leave the familiar surroundings of high school, these seniors remain open to new experiences. Hopewell’s Sara Dworak was philosophical on that point:
“I love the idea of never being the same person for the rest of my life,” she said. “I love to try new things. You never know where you’ll find your next passion.”
The list of scholarship recipients also includes:
▪ Ryan Kapur, Northwest School of the Arts, who is passionate about musical theater and headed to Harvard University.
▪ Nickolas Lowell, South Mecklenburg High, who is interested in people from different cultures and also headed to Harvard.
▪ Hanna Archer of Lake Norman Charter, who helped start a movement at her school to combat bullying.
▪ Amanda Conti, Porter Ridge High School, who created a Girls in Stem club, and is headed to Duke University.
▪ Samantha Whitley of Fort Mill High, who started a Republican Club at her school to combat apathy and is headed to Furman University.
This marks the 60th year area scholars have been recognized. The Charlotte News began the tradition in 1956 and The Observer continued it when the News ceased operations in the 1980s.
This year, 96 schools from across the Charlotte region selected 144 students as All-Star Scholars. The students were recognized based on academic performance, citizenship, community service and extracurricular activities. From their respective groups, each school nominated one Senior of the Year candidate. An in-house Observer panel selected 30 Senior of the Year finalists based on resumes and essays submitted by the schools.
Those finalists were interviewed by an independent panel of judges who selected the 10 scholarship winners. Each will receive $1,000.
Judges included Latin Chamber of Commerce Director Rocio Gonzalez; Duke Energy Philanthrophy Executive Shawn Heath; UNC Charlotte Assistant Provost Leslie Zenk; Observer Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten; and Publisher Ann Caulkins.
Here are the region’s 2016 All-Star Scholars listed by County:
A.L. Brown: Matt Abba; Brennen Nestvogel.
Cannon School: Carrie Schauder.
Central Cabarrus: Holly Pennell; Chris Berg.
Concord High: Brandon Moore; Ugoji Nwanaji Enwerem.
Cox Mill: William Lindayen; Chrissta Hill.
Hickory Ridge: Megan Campany; Joel Gillison.
Jay M. Robinson: Courtney Gordon.
Mt. Pleasant: Lawson Honeycutt.
Northwest Cabarrus: Kiristan Waters; Coleman Beaver.
Challenger Early College: Alison Ward.
Fred T. Foard: Lauren Talley.
Hickory: Austin Harrill.
Newton-Conover: Sydney Karre.
St. Stephens: Grayson Gimblet; Emily Childers.
Ashbrook: Mallory Alman; Tyler Brown.
Bunker Hill: Patricia Ramirez.
Cherryville: Samantha Levine.
East Gaston: Zane Billings.
Forestview: Marlena Heracklis; Jordan Williams.
Gaston Christian: Madison Ramsey.
Highland School of Technology (Gastonia): Matt Noles.
Hunter Huss: Caroline Styers; Nicole Knox.
Kings Mountain High: Weston Harmon; Demetrius Hill.
Maiden: Bryce Pittman.
North Gaston: Brice Brooks.
South Point High: Grace Russell.
Stuart W. Cramer: Karan Mirchandani
Lake Norman Charter School: Hannah Archer.
Lake Norman High: Reagan Portelance; Paige Goodson; Madison Seals.
Mooresville High: Hannah White; Louisa Sholar.
North Iredell: Ann Marie Ingram.
South Iredell: Alexandra Dawes; Emma Plyler.
Statesville High: Connor Badgett.
West Iredell: Yulissa Gonzalez.
East Lincoln: Jaxson Floberg.
Lincoln Charter: Heather Hubeli.
Lincolnton High: Ellen Carpenter.
North Lincoln: Emma Fiore.
West Lincoln: Hunter Church.
Ardrey Kell: Pooja Kanabur; Shiva Bakhtiyari.
Butler: Walker Austell; Amanda Shroyer; Grant Tatich.
Charlotte Catholic: Andrea Garmilla; Anne Marie Bryson.
Charlotte Christian: Taylor Burch.
Charlotte Country Day: Christien Williams.
Charlotte Latin: Noah Berens.
Covenant Day: Garrett Moseley.
Davidson Day: Margaret Sellers.
East Mecklenburg: Maddie Garcia; Bryana Polk.
Garinger: Brielle Whitman; Thao Nguyen.
Harding: Cindy Yang.
Hickory Grove: Connor Helmendach.
Hopewell: Sara Dworak; Armon Abrdi.
Independence: Anne-Marie Noblitt; Jorge Martinez Jr.; Gillian Joseph.
Mallard Creek: Elena Blain.
Myers Park: Ryan Shorkey; Conor McAvoy; Steven Erlenbach.
Northwest School of the Arts: Ryan Kapur.
North Mecklenburg: Raj Shiddapur; Margaret Houck.
Olympic Biotech: Ivana Inige.
Olympic LEAD: Sydeja Roberts.
Olympic METS: Ashley Rankin.
Olympic Renaissance: Parker Greaves.
Performance Learning Center: Olivia Rick.
Phillip O. Berry: Geena Gorge; Courtney Gilbert.
Providence Day: Grace Clements.
Providence High: Ryan McMillan; Elizabeth Wilson; Bayli Wellman.
Rocky River: Wayne Ruan; Allie Singletary; Brittany Tenorio.
Southlake Christian Academy: Daniel Ntim.
South Mecklenburg: Nick Lowell; Amy Griffin; Kevin Gauch.
Vance: Isha Patel; Diana Maruri.
West Charlotte: Breonda Snead.
West Mecklenburg: Cameron Odom; Bledsoe Meexayvanh.
William A. Hough: Trevor Stevenson; Daryl Konstandt; Matt Mohr.
Central Academy: Stephanie Eberly.
Cuthbertson: Will Cachine; Connor Kelligrew
Forest Hills: Reagan Thomas.
Metrolina Christian Academy: Ashley Michalak.
Marvin Ridge: Chase Pasciuto; Alice Liu.
Monroe High: Rosa Gonzalez.
Parkwood: Gabby Hubert.
Piedmont: Scott Stegall; Jacob Mims.
Porter Ridge: Amanda Conti; Laura Sanford; Paulina Patyk.
Sun Valley: Jason Patterson; Kalina Mackay.
Union Academy: Elizabeth Dudas.
Union County Early College: Morganne Guinther.
Weddington: Tucker Snyder.
Andrew Jackson: Luke Sowell
Buford: Autumn Rabon.
Clover High: Grayson Love; Bonnie Wyatt.
Fort Mill High: Samantha Whitley; Kelsey Holloway.
Indian Land: Stacey Keller.
Lancaster: Coulter Jackson.
Nation Ford: Alexis Wood; Hank Tuipulotu.
Northwestern: Claire Robinson; Eleanor Mixon.
Rock Hill High: Chelsea Alford; Jennings Brackett.
South Pointe: Shekinah Lightner.
York Comprehensive: Sierra Richardson; Grace Reynolds.