11 students gain awards in program’s 19th year
Posted: February 15, 2013
Star staff report
RICHMOND — Supreme Court Justice Donald W. Lemons presented $10,000 checks Thursday to 11 Virginia high school seniors chosen for best exemplifying qualities of leadership.
The winners of the 19th annual Harry F. Byrd Jr. Leadership awards — with one student chosen from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts — were selected for demonstrating “academic accomplishment, excellence of character, qualities of leadership, and devotion to duty.”
The students were presented their awards during a ceremony at the Supreme Court Building in Richmond.
Byrd, a former U.S. senator, did not attend this year’s presentation but had these comments.
Byrd said the awards embody the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, which he shares. “I share Jefferson’s strong conviction that education is an ingredient vital to democratic government,” he said.
Byrd said he hopes the awards over the year will focus attention on the importance of education, stimulate a desire for excellence and enhance self-confidence on the part of students, and provide recognition and financial assistance to worthy students.
The committee’s selections “dramatize how cosmopolitan and diverse Virginia has become,” Byrd added.
Attaining the award was a tough task for the 11 students.
Each year, the admissions office of the University of Virginia sends a letter and application to public and private high schools throughout the state, seeking one candidate from each.
The names of about 300 highachieving students are then presented to a committee of college deans, which reduces the list to 33 — three from each congressional district.
The students are separately interviewed over a two-day period, and a committee of 11 citizens, with Lemons as chairman, selects the 11 winners.
First District: Deana Elizabeth Hamlin (Brooke Point High School)
Second District: S. Reed Howard II (Princess Anne High School)
Third District: Johnny Mac Yates (Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School)
Fourth District: Mackenzie C. Swan (Smithfield High School)
Fifth District: Brennan Enright Lee (Charlottesville High School)
Sixth District: Katherine Quiroz (Faith Christian Academy)
Seventh District: Savannah Morgan Lane (Midlothian High School)
Eighth District: Sophie Frank (Yorktown High School)
Ninth District: Jing Li (Blacksburg High School)
10th District: Patricia Jean Mook (Potomac Falls High School)
11th District: Abrar Omeish (James W. Robinson Secondary School)
“Every year, it is a privilege to interview the finalists for the Harry F. Byrd Jr. Leadership Awards. Often it is very difficult to select the recipient because the applicants are such outstanding high school students with demonstrated leadership abilities and a track record of service in their communities,” Lemons said.
“The awards committee has found that leadership is demonstrated in many different ways. Often it involves athletics, student government, political activism or community service. The diversity of the individuals who won this award is truly remarkable. All of the award winners are excellent students. Additionally, they are student government officers, club presidents and team captains.
“Without exception, they have been recommended by their school principals and guidance counselors because they possess one common trait: a passion to serve others.”
The funds for the scholarships come from an endowment established by Byrd at U.Va.
While the teens are free to use the funds as they please, they are encouraged to further their educational goals or invest the money in a way that will help start their careers.
Given the tough economic climate, this is an especially important time to help students reach their academic goals, Byrd said.
“I’m glad we could continue the program this year,” he said.
This year’s selection committee members were: Frank B. Atkinson, attorney; Diana F. Cantor, managing partner, Alternative Investment Management LLC; Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons, president, Shenandoah University; Michael N. Herring, Richmond commonwealth’s attorney; Justice William C. Mims, Supreme Court of Virginia; Mildred Fletcher Slater, attorney; Charles B. Walker, vice-chairman, retired, Albemarle Corp.; F. Blair Wimbush, vice president-real estate, Norfolk Southern Corp.; Harry F. Byrd III, president, Orchard Management Co.; and Thomas T. Byrd, president and publisher, The Winchester Star.