Tooele High School had 12 seniors compete in the Wasatch Front Region of the Deseret News/KSL Sterling Scholar Program last month.
The purpose of the Sterling Scholar Awards is to publicly recognize and encourage the pursuit of excellence in scholarship, community service, leadership and citizenship of public high school seniors in the state of Utah.
The Deseret News and KSL Broadcast Group developed the program in the 1960s to focus attention on outstanding seniors in order to recognize them publicly as well as award cash scholarships and tuition waivers from participating institutions.
A Sterling Scholar demonstrates excellence in academics, leadership, service, interview skills, and one of 15 specific categories, which include agriculture science, business and marketing, computer technology, dance, English and literature, family and consumer sciences, general scholarship, instrumental music, mathematics, science, speech and drama, skilled and technical education, visual arts, vocal performance, and world languages.
The 12 THS candidates were selected by the school. They prepared a portfolio that highlighted their experiences. After the portfolios were submitted, 45 of 83 students in each category were invited to interview in the semi-finals, from which 12 were invited to the finals round.
From these 12 students in each category, a winner and two runners-up are selected and awarded the title of Sterling Scholar. They receive a scholarship from the Deseret News and offers of scholarships from colleges and universities in the region.
The Sterling Scholar Awards program seeks to commend and encourage excellence among all students. All nominees are judged equally on the basis of scholastic achievement, community service, leadership and citizenship without regard to religion, sex, political preference or national origin.
Below are the 12 THS Sterling Scholar contestants and a brief bio about their academic interests and passions. The bios were provided by THS.
Matthew Neff – World Languages: French, Wasatch Front Region Runner-Up
Neff progressed through the competition up to the finalist round in which he was selected as runner-up “I agree with the old French proverb that serves as the motto for the French National Honor Society, which states: ‘Celui qui sait deux langues en vaut deux.’ Translated, this means, ‘He who knows two languages is worth two men.’
“I believe that learning a second language gives a person a world view that is invaluable to them and those around them. Having an understanding of another language and culture has helped me develop a sense of empathy, compassion, and patience for those who differ from me.
“For example, I have a friend from Peru that is trying to learn English. Even though it is difficult at times to understand what he is trying to say through his limited knowledge of English and thick accent, I understand what it is like to try and learn a second language, and am more than happy to give him the practice he needs to do so.
“I am reminded of a period in history where society placed great importance on an individual having a well-rounded education. This Renaissance man, as they are called, was expected to be a highly cultivated individual who was trained in many fields, including arts, sciences, and foreign languages. This multifaceted education made them a valuable, contributing part of their society, and it is my belief that such an education should still be greatly valued, as it is just as important today as it was in the Renaissance.
“As the old Chinese saying says, ‘To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.’ In my opinion, we need all the windows we can get. In regards to my involvement within the breadth of the Sterling Scholar competition and not just World Languages, there are many experiences to be had that will greatly enrich my life.
“The interviewing process alone will strengthen my interviewing skills, which will greatly benefit me when seeking employment. The chance to interact with other Sterling Scholars in the competition will allow me a unique chance to learn from experts within diverse fields, which will further broaden and diversify my horizons.”
Simon Ignat – Theatre Arts and Debate Finalist
In his portfolio, Ignat explained his life experiences, which developed his ambition for excellence.
“In my childhood, I had the opportunity to travel the world and live in Mexico and Romania. I was never destined to have a typical American childhood. I am half Romanian, making me a first-generation American on my father’s side. It’s with my father that I traveled across the United States of America, Mexico, and Europe, gaining an undying drive for success, a passion for argument, and a unique perspective into the business world in the process …
“I moved to Mexico after the fourth grade. When I enrolled in school in Mexico for the fifth grade, I was in culture shock. My inability to communicate with anyone was crippling to my education. It got to the point where I was taken out of school for a year in order to learn the language and get used to the country.
“In my off year, I traveled to Europe to live with my father’s parents for two months. In this process, I was exposed to massive cities like Atlanta, New York, and Budapest. There were also rural no-man’s lands like the Sonora desert and the mountains of Transylvania. I saw places with massive infrastructure and no infrastructure, and in trying to understand this, I conversed with my father and his father, a published Romanian poet. In these conversations I learned the role that politics plays in the development of societies, and I learned that in order to make change, one must put forth an argument backed by reason and evidence …
“Today, I have my father’s drive and a passion for bettering the world. The most effective way to do this is through understanding and application of the law. In preparation for this, I committed to Theatre and Speech and Debate.”
Spencer Kenison – Science Finalist
Kenison explained his curiosity by relating his involvement in the science fair.
“The University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair (USEF) has been an amazing experience … USEF exhibits some of the best research coming from secondary education students in the Salt Lake Valley because of the multiple school and district fairs that one has to get through to even get to compete.
“I [learned] how diverse and deep science really is just by looking at what other students have researched. If you’re interested in why your dog acts the way he does when someone comes to the door, there’s a science and tons of research for that. Science has helped me to understand the world at a much deeper level and to better appreciate all of the technology and developments that have allowed modern society to grow and expand so quickly …
“I’ve been able to learn what it takes to conduct an experiment or engineer a solution to a problem in the best way possible. There really is truth in the statement that there is no better way to learn something than to try doing it yourself. I have learned about how hard it really it can be to create an experiment that properly controls for confounding variables in order to create results that accurately represent what changing an independent variable actually results in.
“All of my experiments and engineering projects have been done on a rather small scale with little outside assistance, yet I have already learned so much. I can’t wait to get out into the real world and be able to take part in large projects that create products and results that can help many more people.
Besides just learning from USEF, I have also been pretty successful in competing there as well. When I presented my project on using flaps on fixed wing aircraft, I placed first in the Senior Division of Mechanical Engineering.
“I also received a special award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) as well as one from the US Metric Association. This past year when I competed with a project on developing winglets to improve airfoil efficiency, I place third in the Senior Division of Mechanical Engineering and received another special award from the AIAA as well as from the Utah Department of Transportation.”
Turin Briggs – Computer Technology Finalist
Briggs’ portfolio states, “I have found it prudent to be vigilant in my studies of [computers], seeking to always expand my knowledge of computers in some new way. [I was elated when] I learned of the Code to Success program…
“My desire to learn committed me to participate, despite the fact that doing so would cost me nine weeks of summer vacation — the most precious resource of any student. This was probably one of the best decisions I have made of late. I gained so much from participation that extends far beyond the certification or the award I received at the end. In fact, in a way, it has redefined my approach to many different aspects of life…
“The course was very rigorous. Even with my extensive foreknowledge of programming, it certainly required exerted effort to progress through on schedule … [Without any external reward] it is quite easy to consider simply giving up when objectives become difficult to attain. However, it is here that one can truly gain mastery over their driving spirit.
“I decided to pursue the course with great fervor, as well as to become involved in helping the other students do the same through the online help chats. By doing so, I was able to realize my ability to guide and lead others in a way I had yet to up to that point. Working feverishly till the end of that nine-week program, I finished with 100% completion, while helping others along the way.
“Doing so rewarded me with certification as a Level 1 Full Stack Developer and recognition as one of the 10 best students in the state for coding by American Express. In the time since then, I have continued to draw on what I learned from the Code to Success program as I involve myself in various development competitions, projects and jobs. It has given me the means to start off running in the technology sector.”
Preston Bowden – Social Science
Bowden wrote in his portfolio, “History teaches us perspective and to avoid the failures of the past. It develops critical thinking skills, which complements itself into other subjects in education. I grew to have a passion for history. I had a knack for understanding all perspectives of past historians. The various perspectives, periodology and causation that comes with history makes the subject in public secondary education.”
Bowden plans to extend his understanding of the social sciences through the study of the law, planning on becoming a lawyer.
“Justice nourishes the health of society,” he said. “Ensuring justice takes place will keep society healthy. That’s why I want to go into law. Law will enrich my ability to help fulfill justice in the legal system. Civil liberties are highly valued in the United States. Lawyers and attorneys make sure civil liberties are being protected at all times. It’s common for liberties to be infringed upon in cases, schools, and investigations. It’s the lawyer’s job to identify any instances of such, and make it known.”
Bryson Kenison – Skilled and Technical Sciences Education
Bryson Kension wrote in his portfolio, “I have always loved building things. Taking classes in the CTE field has been one of the most fun things I have done in high school. Honestly, they were the classes that got me out of bed in the morning. They were the classes that I always looked forward to.
“I want to become a Civil Engineer and the knowledge that I have gained in my CTE classes has helped me immensely in my desire to learn more about engineering and to help motivate me to go into that career field,” he said.
“The skills that I learned in my drafting and woodworking classes will serve me well as I go through college to get my degree,” he added. “The building and designing skills that I have learned will transfer well to designing things within the civil engineering field. These classes taught me how to succeed in the classroom and in the workplace. Woodworking is my passion, and hobby. I hope to continue to learn more about it as I gain my degree in engineering.”
Carl Raddatz – Business and Marketing
Raddatz explained his interest in the business and marketing category: “I think that the business and marketing category will enrich my life in a very strong way. This is because what I want to do as a career is to be in business. Whether this be sales, administrative positions, business owner, entrepreneur, etc. having the speech skills and presentation skills learned through this position will benefit me greatly in the workplace.
“I think something else this category will do for me is provide me with another perspective and another thing to work toward this senior year in high school. It is a very great experience so far to be a part of the Sterling Scholar program and I can only imagine how it will affect me later on this year.
“I have already been affected and enriched by the Sterling Scholar program already. I have been recognized in school on multiple accounts for being the Sterling Scholar in the business and marketing category, and it feels really good to feel like you are the best at something in your entire school.
“That is one big benefit I like from the Sterling Scholar program already is all the recognition I have received from peers and teachers/advisors. Therefore, it would be an even better experience to receive recognition from all over the place if I happen to win the state competition. It makes me feel like all the hard work I’ve put into high school will have definitely paid off.”
Conway Hogan – Mathematics
Hogan explained his interest in math stating, “As a sophomore, I took both Honors Math II and Honors Math III, which allowed me to take the AP calculus AB course my junior year. This course was my biggest math challenge to that point. It was the first day of the course that I realized if I was going to be successful and pass the test, I was going to have to work. It was not going to be like other courses where I breezed through tests with flying colors based purely on natural talent. It would not be like other courses where I would sit bored at what felt like review over and over again. This course was going to be a challenge, a challenge I was excited to undertake.
“I worked hard for the remainder of the course and was successful in passing every unit test with at least a 3, and many 4’s or 5’s. With my newfound knowledge of what math really is and the satisfaction and intrigue that it could hold (it was at the completion of this course that I determined math really begins with calculus, and that everything before is simply common sense), I was excited to take the test. It would be my first chance to prove myself against not only classmates, but AP calculus students around the world. I could not wait to see if my hard work had paid off and if I was competitive with the top high school mathematics students.”
Hannah Jenkins – English
Leadership is an important characteristic of a Sterling Scholar. Jenkins said, “My experience as a cross country captain has taught me many valuable leadership skills. I have learned that a leader must encourage others to stand with them, put in their own work, and lead their team with kindness.
Encouraging others to stand with me as a leader creates an environment of respect and equality, and avoids a feeling of dictatorship within a group.
“As a captain, I can tell my team what to do, but if they feel they are being forced to follow behind me, they may be reluctant or resentful. I have learned through working with my team during high school that it is much easier to encourage someone to work with me, and to succeed on their own merits, rather than forcing them to stay back so I can claim the front and center position.
“If I wish to be a successful leader, I must be willing to put in my own hard work, and lead by example to push my teammates to run harder. In order to lead my team, I must understand what I am asking them to do, and the best way to understand is by doing it myself. It is unfair and shows poor leadership to ask a person to do something that I am unwilling to do myself.”
Jefferson Dillon – Dance
Dillon related one dance competition stating, “I had the opportunity to participate in the Dancesport National competition for the first time. We have had district competitions at our school for the past few years before, but we never traveled to any bigger competitions, so this one was a completely new experience.
“There were hundreds of people looking to compete in various different dance styles. … I was nervous beginning the dance, but after the first few counts, I got into the groove with the music and all my worries drifted away as I let myself become swallowed up by the music and the dance. I had the time of my life performing, and the cheering from the audience brought a joy that nothing else can bring.
“After we finished our final performance to be judged, we weren’t expecting much. This was our first competition after all, and we had only practiced our dance for a few months, while most teams practice for up to 3 years. Still, we couldn’t judge ourselves because we didn’t get to see what everyone else saw, and apparently what everyone else saw was spectacular! We ended up taking 2nd place in our division!”
Lillian Gebs – Vocal Performance
Gebs related her development in Vocal Performance from participating in the THS drama department:
“My high school drama department has a huge focus on student-led shows. Because of this, I had the opportunity to be the assistant music director for the shows ‘Oklahoma!’ my sophomore year and ‘Shrek: the Musical’ my junior year. I also played supporting roles in both shows. These experiences helped me improve in my craft, my work ethic, and my leadership skills.
“My responsibilities included leading the cast in vocal warm-ups, teaching proper vocal techniques, going over the musical score with the ensemble, planning rehearsals, leading music, and running rehearsals. It was daunting to run a rehearsal of 40 people, all of whom were my peers, and critique their harmonies and timing. I had to be very confident, very professional, and very knowledgeable about what I was doing.
“Have you heard the phrase ‘High schoolers can smell fear?” I’d agree with that. But once the performances came around, all the hard work and dedication was worth it! I had a special pride in the shows. I came to appreciate all the hard work my vocal teachers and music directors put in over the years to ensure that I performed well and had a positive experience.”
Nathan Swan – Instrumental Music
Swan emphasized the necessity of a well-rounded character of an artistic, academic and athletic student. He said, “Earlier this school year, I took part in an academic competition called the Academic Olympiad. Nine students selected from each school take tests in math, social sciences, natural sciences, and English. It was an honor to be part of the team for my school, but I had basketball practice that day, and as team captain, I felt the need to be at every practice. We worked it out where my dad picked me up a little early from the competition to drive me back for practice, which I was 15 minutes late for.
“After basketball practice, I rushed home, took a shower, ate dinner, and got back in the car. I had a piano recital that night. This day is a good indication of what my life has been like for the past four years. No, not every day has been that crazy, thank goodness. But it has been a challenge oftentimes to handle the conflicts that arise from being very involved in different activities.
“It is tough to tell a coach or a teacher that you can’t make something. You never want to let anyone down. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very busy a lot of the time, but being so involved in my piano and choir and basketball gives me balance to my life that not a lot of people have. I love having friends in these different groups in the school, and I love having multiple passions.”