Friends Jalen Colston, 13, and Juan Willis, 13, both eighth-graders at Mooresville Middle School, sat on the auditorium steps at the end of the ceremony, talking sports and making plans about what they could do for their community.
Colston and Willis were among 14 students recognized as "Pillars of Hope" by the Mooresville Community Alliance Jan. 16 at the alliance's annual Martin Luther King Day of Unity Community Breakfast.
A flurry of activity continued around them as families gathered to get pictures of students with their awards. They greeted keynote speaker Michelle Horton, Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District; Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins; Dr. Eduardo Haynes; and others involved in the ceremony.
More than 200 people filled the cafeteria at Mooresville Intermediate School to celebrate the life and legacy of King.
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Brenda McKee, past board chairman for the Mooresville Community Alliance, led the group in prayer followed by a moment of unity spoken by Edwards: "Turn to your neighbor and tell them they look good." Warm greetings filled the room.
The Mooresville High School Honors Choir sang "Heal the World." They were joined by Kathy Everhart for "Oh Happy Day."
Haynes, board chairman and president of the Mooresville Community Alliance, introduced keynote speaker Michelle Horton, a former marketing executive who now teaches at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. Horton is founder of YOUniversity Drive, a national organization that inspires students to attend secondary and collegiate-level schools.
"We are here to honor these young scholars as well as Martin Luther King," she began. She followed soon thereafter with a quote from King: "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Her message praised the mission of the Community Alliance, which encourages students to pursue higher education and provides scholarships for deserving recipients. The MLK Day of Unity Community Breakfast raises money for the scholarships.
Haynes presented the Pillars of Hope awards. The students were Ajana Blackwell, Benjamin Campbell, Jalen Colston, Troy Eckles, Tushnu Eduljee, Elijah Gamble, Kira Jennings, Andrew Mauney, Serhenry Miller, Chris Neel, Zana Tatum, Surgai Tillman, Georgia Walker and Juan Willis.
Those students were chosen for service to society, involvement in sports, integrity and character.
Here are excerpts from the award nominations for each student:
Benjamin Campbell is an excellent student who is always prepared for class and ready to help others. Benjamin is a Cub Scout who exemplifies outstanding character. He has worked at the Mooresville soup kitchen with his family and has been involved in helping to sort shoes to be sent to Africa. Benjamin also participates in other extracurricular activities, such as soccer and basketball.
Elijah Gamble is hard-working and highly committed to his education. Elijah is always interested in supporting others. He is loyal, honest, considerate, humble and polite. It is clear that beyond the natural warmth of his personality there lies an inner determination to succeed.
Andrew Mauney is a very polite, intelligent and caring student that works hard at everything he does. He is a member of the MIS sixth grade basketball team and also plays football. Andrew is active in his church and also volunteers at the Christian Mission. ... Andrew is an excellent student that works hard on his assignments and also helps other students that struggle.
Jalen Colston ... is one of the hardest working students on our campus. He always gives 110 percent effort in his studies and in all his endeavors. Jalen is a member of our IMPact club wherein they serve as student leaders. Jalen is responsible for giving tours to new students, mediating peers who are not getting along and serving the community.
Juan Willis ... Juan strives each day to do his best and achieve, and his efforts are evident on his report card. He is a model student and the kind of student teachers enjoy having in their class. He also serves as a motivator to his peers; always encouraging them to do their best.
Georgia Walker ... is not only an excellent student, she is also a strong example of leadership and integrity in our school community. During the first quarter of the school year, Georgia made our Principal's Cabinet list, meaning she earned A's in all of her courses. She is always honest, kind, thoughtful and thorough. She never leaves another student out and is a hard worker.
Zana Tatum volunteers frequently at various service organizations in the community. Her whole family is instrumental in working at the Mooresville Soup Kitchen, and she frequently jumps in with activities there also. Zana is the only non-senior captain on the girl's basketball team.
Ajana Blackwell has a genuine interest in helping and aiding people she meets. She goes above and beyond what is asked of her. Ajana has played basketball and is a member of the step team. During all of her activities, she puts forth her best effort and maintains a clear sense of purpose. Ajana is completing her internship at the Summit Place, which is an assisted living and Alzheimer's care retirement community. There she is loved by all.
Troy Eckles participates in football, indoor track & field, and outdoor track & field for the Blue Devils. He is a model student-athlete that displays integrity, sportsmanship and respect both on the field and off. He challenges himself in the classroom and is a hardworking individual that sets goals for himself and works to reach these goals.
Serhenry Miller is also a member of the football team, indoor track and field team, and outdoor track and field team at Mooresville High School. Serhenry is one of the most respectful students that we have. He always says "hello," has a warm smile, and it's always "yes, sir" or "yes ma'am." Serhenry gets along with everyone because of his high character and his willingness to lend a hand.
Kira Jennings is hardworking and challenges herself with her course load. She has continued this her junior year with AP English, honors chemistry, honors geography and Spanish 3. During her eighth and ninth grade years she attended extra classes at UNCC in math and science to help prepare her for a college prep route in high school. She is a very conscientious student, always remembering deadlines.
Tushnu Eduljee has excelled as a student and as a role model for her peers. She is a conscientious student who always does her best in whatever is asked of her. She is a model student who leads and encourages her classmates to work harder and do the right thing. She is a focused and diligent worker, not only in her academic subjects but in her extracurricular activities as well.
Chris Neel is extremely conscientious in class and is very helpful to his classmates. He goes the extra mile to succeed with his academics. Chris is a friend to all students and is very caring. He is very active in the community and has worked with his youth group at Central United Methodist to take care of church grounds and to assist the elderly.
Surgai Tillman ... is an excellent student and is very worthy of this recognition. Surgai gives her very best in all academic areas and in providing support for her peers. She is kind to all and shows respect to adults in any situation. Surgai can always be counted on to do the right thing and serves as a role model for her peers.