These lucky finalists are eligible for the $1,000 cash prize to be awarded by May 23, 2014. Voting on finalists will begin no later than May 1st.
“Even small gestures can make a huge impact on someone’s life.” And Geneva Bass of Michigan would know. In high school she participated in the TV-10 program, an organization that allowed her to direct, produce, create, and run on-air content in her community. That one extracurricular activity led to big things. “If I hadn’t applied to be a part of it, I would have never discovered that is what I want to do in the future,” Geneva explains. Subsequently, Geneva, a college student, is currently majoring in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts with a minor in Management.
Geneva found her passion while she was dealing with the hardest period of her life. Geneva has a condition called Growth Hormone Deficiency. “GHD is when the pituitary gland doesn’t form correctly, and doesn’t produce the hormones that are needed to grow and develop,” she says. Unfortunately, Geneva will not face this obstacle only once. “Although I did get the treatment I needed throughout middle school and am now 5’3”, I still have to deal with the consequences of this condition later in life.”
But GHD will not define her or her future. Geneva plans on finishing college and going on to grad school. She wants to study for a Master’s degree in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts with a concentration in video production. “I would like to be a director or an editor of a live event television program,” she describes. “My dream job would be directing The Ellen DeGeneres Show. And this is where Geneva’s story comes full circle. The TV-10 program, where she found her passion and her future goals, is currently struggling to survive. “I want other students to discover the passion of broadcast television,” Geneva explains, “so to help them I submitted a form to The Ellen DeGeneres Show to try and help them.”
Now, wouldn’t it be amazing if the inspiration for her dream job could be saved by her dream job? If anyone could pull it off, it would be Geneva.
If you ever need the motivation to get through high school or to achieve your personal goals, you would be well-advised to listen to Connor Bell. “Nothing interesting happens when there isn’t enough effort,” Connor says. “Even when you can’t find one thing that you feel passionately about, you should just keep looking.” And Connor knows a lot about doing whatever it takes to get what you want. He was bullied throughout middle school and, as a result, felt that there was no one he could really trust. But he persevered. “The motivation I received from that negative energy contributes to my desire to do well in school and help others,” he explains.
Connor has also used that motivation to do his best in high school and to partake in every available opportunity. He has continuously improved his tennis game and has been on the varsity team for three years. In addition, he excels in art classes and designed his own independent study course focusing on watercolor paintings and architectural design. He has even traveled to Costa Rica after raising money with his classmates. In short, Connor has not let any trauma or hardship stop him from pursuing what he wants. His improvements in tennis and art and his travels are just further evidence of that.
It’s safe to say that Connor’s personal motivation will come in handy after he graduates. He plans on attending Roger Williams University to study architecture. “I want to design houses and commercial buildings,” he describes. “It’s something I feel very passionately about.” Although he is humble about his achievements, there is no doubt that Connor is an exemplary high school student and will do even better in college. But he realizes that achieving every goal is not the highest priority. “Life isn’t just about success,” he claims. “It’s about having fun and being yourself as well.”
It is fairly common for students to plan on traveling around the world after they graduate from high school or whenever they have the time to wander the globe. But not many actually do it, let alone do it while they are still in high school. Sydney Maki is the very special exception to this rule. She has already traveled to Africa and plans to return after she finishes her senior year. Of course, what else would you expect from someone who says "No matter how many people come against you, keep pushing."
Traveling to Africa is impressive in of itself, but Sydney has done much more than simply observing the scenery. She is the founder of Ekitangaala Ministries, an organization that provides education, food and medical services to children orphaned by AIDS. “Having the opportunity to change the lives of children in Africa is the biggest blessing in my life,” Sydney explains.
And according to her future career plans, this is a blessing that keeps on giving. Sydney’s favorite subject is biology, which will come in handy when she trains to be a midwife. After graduation, she plans on spending six months in Uganda in order to get to know the children there. When she returns home, she will begin her Midwifery education. “There is a huge lack in qualified midwives and birth attendants in Uganda, resulting in maternal and infant deaths,” she explains. “Being a qualified midwife in Uganda will be a big help.”
Sydney’s passion for helping others is an inspiration. What makes her work even more impressive is her personal connection to medical need. When she was 13, Sydney was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and told she would never walk again. She fought her disease with all her strength and is currently walking and in remission. She did not give up on herself; she will not give up on her commitment to the children of Uganda. And it is clear that Sydney sees a bit of herself in the children she is so dedicated to. “Seeing the joy and thankfulness of the children is what inspired me to keep fighting.”
“My classes and projects in FFA are my passion. I raise and show beef cows.” Finding his place in the FFA — the most important thing in his life—was Cody May’s biggest challenge. Although he is extremely good at what he does and even serves as chapter and district Vice President, it took him a little while to find his own light. His sister is a FFA superstar and the first two years of Cody’s career was spent in her shadow. However, his determination turned the tables. “After years of hard work and dedication, I have been able to build a reputation of my own,” he explains. “Now people ask her if she is my sister.”
But that doesn’t mean that Cody is focused only on being the best. He remembers what it was like trying to find a place in the FFA. “I am most proud of mentoring a fellow rookie cattle showman this past year,” he remembers. “I took all of my experience and taught her everything I knew.” She ended up finishing just after Cody in the competitions. And he doesn’t forget the subjects of all of his training and hard work: he treasures his heifers. He raised one cow in particular for over two years and is excited to start showing her calf within the next month. After naming all these experiences and achievements, it is obvious why Cody delights in training his show cows.
This love of working with animals will not stop after graduation. Cody plans on attending Texas A&M University to study Wildlife Biology. He can continue to do what he loves and most likely will find a way to be a mentor to even more people. When he was asked to advise other high school students, Cody said they had three options in life: “They can give up, give in or give it all they got.”
For Nitya Rayapati, a high school junior from Texas, resiliency is something that defines her life. While she feels immense pressure from her numerous IB courses along with other responsibilities, she’s been able to channel her anxiety into more positive outlets.
For example, she mentors freshman students who have gone through the same troubles she has and she is the Co-Committee Chair of the Drugs, Alcohol, Safety and Health Student Council. “I have helped raise awareness about these issues,” she explains of her position as co-chair, “[I attack] the problem not just in my own life, but on a school-wide scale.”
While schoolwork can sometimes be overwhelming, Rayapati finds most joy in her science courses, namely biology. Her passion for science has encouraged her to get involved in creating her own experiments, including engineering a novel passive solar tracker that she developed with a friend. This device intends to improve methods of harnessing energy from the sun and it earned her and her friend 1st place at their regional science fair.
In addition, they were invited to share their invention at the SXSWedu 2014 Conference where they presented to entrepreneurs, students and educators. “This [device] could have major benefits globally and in third-world countries since it maximizes solar power with a relatively simple design,” Rayapati explains, “[it has been] very rewarding [and] I am proud of what I was able to accomplish.”
Upon graduation, Rayapati intends to major in biology or biomedical engineering and eventually hopes to become a physician or to work in a lab. No matter what she pursues though, Rayapati always keeps this advice in mind: “Do not let disappointment define you. Let the way you react to setback, with determination and strength, compose your character instead.”
“Surround yourself with people who want to raise you up, not bring you down. If you want to be a smart and caring person, hang out with smart and caring people.” That is what Carolina Sosa of Virginia believes makes someone stand out.
If this is how Carolina judges success, then she must have an excellent circle of family and friends. How else could she start Scholar Society, a program that fosters academic excellence, leadership and community service in low income or first generation families? Or participate in the Business Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America? Or be named National Children’s Awareness Month Ambassador of Virginia?
What’s even more impressive is the fact that Carolina accomplished all of this after struggling with public speaking from a young age. Due to a speech problem, Carolina had to take classes throughout elementary school. “I wouldn’t pay attention and I would easily get frustrated,” she remembers. But she found a way to face the challenge. She decided she would rather take orchestra in middle school instead of her speech therapy. “It was touch and I did get made fun of, but in the end I was holding a violin bow,” Carolina explains.
Even though that hardship is in the past, Carolina has no plans to stop her hard work. She hopes to major in communications and minor in Spanish during college. “My dream career would be to work for UNICEF. One of the things that first caught my eye about UNICEF was that they were recently fundraising to help Colombia’s indigenous children and pregnant women,” Carolina says. Being from Colombian descent, she feels a personal connection and duty to aid the nation. Assuming that Carolina keeps her support system, there is no doubt that she will continue her successful, trailblazing pursuits.
“Everything has two sides. With fear comes joy; with every doubt comes certainty.” This is the mantra that Vivian Yu, a junior at Longmeadow High School in Longmeadow, Mass., lives by. After being diagnosed with scoliosis and terrified at the thought of surgery, Yu decided to turn her fear into something positive. “I saw kids my age who had so much more to worry about than I did,” she recalls, “I realized then that Shriners [Hospital] had given me…a purpose, a dream. I wanted to help Shriners [and] those kids.”
It was then that Yu developed her passion for science — and for giving back to others. She plans on going to college for biomedical engineering and, one day, to develop new prostheses that are better functioning for future patients. As a member of her local Vex Robotics team, she is well on her way to achieving that goal. “The best part of being in robotics is simply seeing what I have created,” Yu explains, “If today I can change a pile of metal parts to a machine…who knows what I will be able to build in the future?”
Yu also manages to give back to her community through her work as the president of the Interact Club at her high school. She and fellow members of her club have raised money for organizations such as the Red Cross, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Children’s Miracle Network and Shriners Hospital. Yu did her own fundraising work for Shriners Hospital by setting up collection boxes around her town. She managed to raise almost $1,000 on her own; something that gave her immense satisfaction to give back to the people who had helped her.
As a word of advice for other students, Yu offers this: “When you’re facing something terrifying…take that something and change it so that it makes you smile…everything can always be turned, shifted, explored, seen in a whole new light.”