Park City High’s Sterling Scholars shine
McCauley Finnegan’s hopes of winning disappeared.
She was the Park City High School Sterling Scholar for business and marketing, and as such, is one of the most qualified students in her class. But a glance at the accomplishments of one of her competitors in the regional competition left her, in her mind, fighting for second place.
"She was phenomenally qualified, with all these amazing accomplishments," Finnegan said. "So seeing that right before the awards ceremony, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, well she definitely won that.’"
As it turned out, the girl had, indeed, impressed the judges. She was named runner up. But then the announcer began listing off Finnegan’s accomplishments, and that was the moment she knew she’d won.
"My parents were in the first row, just screaming, because they realized it was me, too," she said. "So I’m just trying to keep it together. It was very cool because you put so much work into it, so to have that kind of build-up to that reward was amazing."
She was far from the only PCHS student to experience a similar moment of elation at the regional Sterling Scholar competition, held April 18 at South Summit High School. Competing against students from 15 other schools, four PCHS seniors won their categories, while six others were named runners up. There were 16 categories in all.
As well as Finnegan, the winners were: Sarah Marshall, science; Micaela Berglund, computer technology; and Martina Hebert, visual arts. The runners up were: Nick Coleman, English; Jackson Burton, math; Kristen Mosher, world languages; Caitlin Silianoff, speech/theater/forensics; Leo Peters, musical instrument; Katelyn Thompson, dance.
Heather Briley, scholarship adviser at PCHS, said "it was incredible" that so many PCHS seniors won, given that all the students they were competing against are also at the top of their classes at their respective schools.
"They are all so talented, and they really just put their best foot forward and represented really well," she said of the PCHS students. "They all walked out of their interviews going, ‘Oh, that was a really nice interview,’ which I think that’s all you can hope for: Just do your best, and the judges recognize that."
The students completed a rigorous process to be considered for the recognition. They compiled online portfolios, demonstrating the difficulty of their coursework, their leadership skills and the community service they performed. Additionally, they had to answer essay questions, collect letters of recommendation and, to top it off, meet with the judges face-to-face for 15-minute interviews.
The hours of work it took to participate made winning that much sweeter.
"It was really exciting for me to win," Marshall said. "I’ve never actually won anything for science. So to actually win something for the accomplishments that I’ve done and everything I’ve done toward this was amazing. I put in a lot of time, and it was just really rewarding."
For Hebert, the competition was affirmation that she’s good enough. She’d never shown any of her paintings or drawings in public, so winning gave her motivation that she can push her artwork even further.
"To be able to win at the school level was really big for me because it was the first time I was putting myself out there," she said. "And then to go and compete at region, and talk about art to people who really knew what they were talking about was kind of a big deal. Once I won, it was like, ‘I can actually do this. I can make a living off this and major in it."
But more than the thrill of victory, there were other benefits for the students, as well. For one, they loaded up on scholarships – and being named a Sterling Scholar is a surefire way to boost their chances at others – but they’ve also learned how to market themselves for opportunities that come in the future.
"It’s not even winning – just the fact that we have a portfolio that looks like this now," Finnegan said. "We have this huge accumulation of everything we’ve done in high school, and that’s so phenomenal for future job interviews, college programs and everything. It’s great to have the portfolio, regardless of the award we got for it."
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