The banquet honored 18 senior finalists from Rome, Floyd County and Darlington schools in six categories.
After a grueling application process, eight of the seniors walked away as Students of the Year with $100 each. Each winner read his or her essay for the audience.
Juhi Varshney of Rome High School won in the category of academics, and among her achievements was a perfect SAT score as well as having scored perfectly on every Advanced Placement test — a record for RHS.
Varshney said she has always enjoyed learning, the analytical and logical process of breaking down and absorbing information.
“I consider myself very blessed to have formed such a deep personal connection with academics the past 17 years and I eagerly look forward to a challenging future in academia,” she said.
Darlington student Bailey Brock won in the All Around category. Brock, who plays basketball, volleyball and lacrosse, ranks second in her class and excels in 22 honors and AP courses.
Brock’s essay created a symbolic metaphor between embracing her future and leaving behind her 1995 station wagon, which could hardly be trusted to carry her across town much less make the trek to college, she said.
Her experiences, along with her friends and mentors at Darlington, will influence her for the rest of her life, she said.
“They’ve shaped the person I have become and taught me commitment, dedication, teamwork, perseverance and other valuable characteristics that will aid me more in life than my knowledge of the Ch’in Dynasty or reaction mechanisms,” she said.
Ben Davenport of Pepperell High School won in the area of Athletics. Davenport, who plays football and track, said that while sports rooted in him the importance of strength and physical fitness, it was the lessons of teamwork, discipline and leadership that resonated with him.
“A younger boy may look up to me and see it’s more than winning a game,” he said. “Being a leader requires a significant amount of discipline and dedication on and off the field… I’m grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to play this game.”
Darlington student Will Warren won in the area of Creative Arts. Warren, a straight-A student, dabbles mostly in music. An avid chorus singer, musical thespian, and dancer, Warren said music was often his shelter from life’s storms.
“Music has been my refuge, a way out of my darkest times,” he said. “It reminds me of the feeling I get every time I walk through the doors of my chorus room. I can simply leave all my worries at the door and have 45 minutes of calm during the storm of the day at school. It’s my eye of the hurricane.”
Rome High School student Elena Diller won in the area of Community Involvement for her numerous volunteer efforts that included tutoring, Girl Scouts and founding her own youth volunteer program. Her volunteer work, she said, has helped her learn valuable life lessons which make her want to continue to help people in the future.
“As a rising sophomore, I was given the privilege of volunteering through the Floyd Medical Center’s Summer Youth Program,” she said. “This opportunity of assisting fellow Romans was rewarding because I not only gained practical work experience that influenced my future career choice of an infectious disease doctor, but also has given me inspiration to give back to my community.”
All three students in the Life Hero category were named Students of the Year.
Grace Greene, a Darlington student recounted being run over by a car and the painful healing process — lying in the Grady Burn Center for weeks and receiving skin grafts to both her legs. After battling with the reality her legs will never look the same, Greene wears shorts and skirts as much as she can to flaunt the scars she said she’s earned.
“I like my legs exactly the way they are,” she said. “My scars are a reminder of my own acquired strength, and I don’t intend to be ashamed of them.”
Ben Masters, a Coosa High School student, recalled having been in a wreck and becoming a quadriplegic.
“Going through rehab, I had to relearn everything from drinking from a cup to putting on a pair of pants,” Masters said. “Through that, I’ve met some great people and built life-long relationships from it.”
Stephen McConkey, a Rome High School student, suffered his mother dying from cancer during his senior year. McConkey said there were times that academics coupled with his mother’s terminal illness made him want to quit, but he draws strength from his mother’s spirit.
“My mother’s illness and death were bridges I had to cross,” he said. “Her personality and character were the driving factors of inspiration that never let me give up.”