Every spring, a new class of Polk County senior high school students gets ready to embark on exciting journeys that will define their lives. All of the work that has led them to graduation culminates in a few fleeting ceremonies where the graduation cap and gown will get tossed aside as the realities of everyday life begin to settle in and take hold.
This spring, like many in the past, was no different. The names and people change, but the rituals and rites of passage continue with a tradition that solidly bring a finality to every graduating senior. Just like the graduation ceremony, there are a few other rites of passage that help to define the community and students who will be moving on to college and careers that will define and shape the world we all live in.
In Polk County Florida, on long standing tradition has been to recognize outstanding seniors whose dedication to the community and the betterment of people around them is another one of those rites. For 40 years, the Silver Garland Awards sponsored by the Ledger Media Group and Lakeland Automall Ford & Hyundai honors high school seniors that have made significant contributions in 11 different categories. The awards are open to all Polk County Schools (both public and private) and honors outstanding service to the community.
Each school has the opportunity to nominate students in Arts, Athletics, Citizenship, English Literature, Foreign Language, Journalism, Mathematics, Music, Performing Arts, Science and Vocational-Technology. The category nominees are then interviewed and judged based on their individual participation, dedication and involvement in making a difference to Polk County, the surrounding communities and around the world. The Silver Garland Award winners receive a crystal award trophy and cash prize of $1,000 scholarship.
This year 149 students were nominated, but unfortunately only 11 winners were selected. There were outstanding student achievements in community activism, international outreach and dedicated teaching and mentoring of underprivileged and needy. Every year it is an honor to see the outpouring of support that the youth bring to the betterment of the world. This year was no different.
Greg Balasco, Lakeland Automall owner said “We are so pleased to have our outstanding students here this evening, and it’s a blessing to be able to showcase their contributions and the impact of their positive actions.”
The evening started with the Southeastern University Jazz Ensemble until Ledger Media Group Editor Lenore Devore presided over the introduction and served as the Mistress of Ceremonies. The presentation of all 149 nominees was done by Jessica Solano, 2016 Polk County Teacher of the Year and nominee for 2016 Florida Teacher of the year. After the introductions and passing out of certificates, Greg Balasco, Kevin Drake (Publisher, Ledger Media Group) and Jacqueline Byrd, Polk County Schools Superintendent gathered on stage to announce all 11 Silver Garland Award winners.
Greg Balasco continued his recognition, “Each of you – our talented, selfless and focused nominees – is deserving of our pride, our gratitude and support as you continue to garner our attention through your efforts. Thank you for all you have given selflessly. We anticipate only the greatest opportunities as you move toward your future goals. Again, congratulations to each of our nominees.”
As quickly as the evening had begun, it was over. All of the self-sacrifice and dedication of each and every student culminated in pageantry and pomp of yet another year. We thank everyone who has dedicated their time and lives to the betterment of others and hope to continue the tradition for another year as a new group of seniors begins their journey this fall and graduates start new lives. It is with great pride we move forward and continue this dedication to service, community and schools. We look forward to next year and another outstanding group of seniors who work their lives to help others.
The Winners of the 2016 Silver Garland Awards
|Art – Noah McNair, Harrison School for the Arts –
The Art judges have unanimously agreed on Noah McNair for the following reasons: Dedication to the full spectrum of the arts, including film, dance, theater and music. Passion for using art for humanitarian efforts. An incredible number of volunteer hours toward reaching these goals. Noah exudes great humility amid such achievements.
Athletics – Zachary Scott, Santa Fe Catholic High School –
Citizenship – Emily Everett, Lakeland High School –
English Literature – Rocel Balmes, International Baccalaureate — Haines City –
Foreign Language – Kathy Vega, Winter Haven High School –
Journalism – Leland Dutcher, Harrison School for the Arts –
Math – Evan Murray, Lake Gibson High School –
Music – Vaviel Verner, Lakeland Christian School –
Performing Arts – Alexandra Simmons, All Saints Academy –
Science – Divya Ravinder, International Baccalaureate — Bartow –
Vocational/Technology – Adriana Hall, Santa Fe Catholic High School –