If you have already flipped through the printed paper or checked out the website, you know it’s that time of the year when we start our nine-week series that gives readers a chance to get to know the 2016 Students of Distinction.
We will run four weekly profiles of students leading up to the program’s banquet on May 25 at Chapel Hill Church in Gig Harbor.
I briefly glanced at the scanned application packets as they popped into my email a couple weeks ago, but I really don’t get the chance to see how amazing each of the students are until the completed profiles are placed on the pages and I get a chance to edit them. Every year I’m amazed with all the accolades and potentially life-changing experiences each student lists on their application. Granted, some read a bit like stat lines on the back of a baseball card, but by large, each student has worked extremely hard to be well-rounded in academics, athletics, volunteerism and generally putting others’ needs ahead of their own. That’s a very tough thing for some young people to embrace.
It’s neat because I also get the chance to unite with other community members when it comes time for the various panels to get to choose one student who particularly stands out among the others to serve as the panelists’ choice. It’s a chance for the panel to ask questions and get to know that student in a one-on-one setting. Being able to list everything on paper is great, but to be able to verbalize one’s ambitions and feelings — as a high school student in front of strangers — is a valuable trait to have at that young of an age.
That makes it that much more important that the Students of Distinction program has stood the test of time. The inaugural banquet was in 2003 at Gig Harbor’s Best Western Inn, and the keynote speaker was Dr. Terry Bergeson, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time. According to a story in The Gateway, Bergeson flew in from Washington D.C. the day of the event, faced a rush-hour crawl across the Narrows Bridge, and arrived just in time to deliver the keynote address.
“This community and this district has gone through a struggle in the past dozen years, but you’re out of it now,” she said in her address. “You’re shooting to stardom across the state.”
Despite that first part about the community and district getting out of a struggle (a bit ironic, considering the growth and enrollment challenges the district is facing 13 years later), she was exactly right about the quality of student being acknowledged by a program like this one. I would even argue that high school students now have more distractions, heightened expectations and different outside pressures to deal compared to what they did 13 years ago.
Even though the amount of staff members and man-hours The Gateway has been able to devote to supporting the program has gotten smaller compared to the early years of the program, the fact that an amazing partnership has been forged with longtime sponsors, individual supporters of the program and the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation shows the dedication and desire throughout the community to keep the program in the fold.
It adds up to a win-win situation for the community, the Peninsula School District and those who have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy seeing the high caliber of individuals who come from this area and go on to bigger and better things in life.
That’s definitely something worth celebrating.