Carroll County High Schools top ten seniors picks for Golden Cavalier honors May 11 represented a good cross section of the District’s partnership, with those tapped ranging from a bus driver to educators from primary to secondary and technical education fields as well as parents. This marks the fourth year the celebration and banquet was held.
“This is one of my favorite evenings,” said Superintendent Dr. Strader Blankenship. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the hard work of parents, students and staff members.”
He said the celebration and banquet honored the collective efforts and sacrifices of all involved and said those being selected as the top ten from a class of about 286 students was no small accomplishment. He said the award was special because it came directly from the students. While recipients knew they had received the honor, they were not told before the celebration who had selected them as someone who made a difference in the students’ lives.
Caleb Burris and Hannah Terry both honored teacher Donna Ogle. Madison Childress’s choice for the award was teacher Alan Webb; Jackie Frost chose her father, Randy, (a veteran bus driver for the District with 10 years experience); Megan Garland picked teacher Susan Rose, Sydney Hawks honored teacher Movita Utt, Mattie Kennedy picked her mother, Pam, Megan Phillips chose teacher Jessica Vaughn; Sarah Turner chose teacher Rachelle Rasco and Brennan Vaught honored his mother, Tara. None appeared more surprised over receiving the honor than Superintendent Dr. Strader Blankenship, who also received the award.
Blankenship explained each student had submitted essays explaining their decision. Some of the participants frankly admitted they weren’t sticking to their “scripts,” opting to speak from the heart. Burris, who chose his senior year college English Teacher, said the task of picking someone who made all the difference in his mind went into overdrive.
“The simple truth is that when a person spends 13 years of his life in a school system, a lot of people make a difference in his life. So I did what I always do when faced with a tough decision, I made a list and weighted out my options,” wrote Burris.
In spite of English being one of his weaknesses in the classroom, Burris said he chose Ogle because it “takes a special person to take a subject a student does not like and by the end of the year turn it into something opposite of that.” Burris wrote he places teachers in three categories, the bad ones, the good ones and the great ones (with bad ones sometimes being as memorable as great ones). He said great teachers not only teach well but genuinely love the subject they teach and care about kids.
Madison Childress chose Alan Webb, her freshman year agriculture teacher. Childress said throughout her high school years Webb always took time out from his schedule to help her with projects.
“He always has the utmost patience with his students, including myself and my many mistakes in shop. It is obvious that he is passionate about what he teaches and loves to share it with his students,” wrote Childress. She wished Webb many more successful teaching years so he can influence many more students.
Megan Garland was one of the participants who chose to speak from the heart when her turn came and putting into words what Culinary Arts teacher Susan Rose had meant to her. Striking was Rose’s ability to be welcoming on that first day of class in spite of “waving around or cutting something with a very large knife,” (a detail contested by Rose who told participants she doesn’t recall the alleged knife recalled by students). Participants rewarded a spirited recount of a near miss with a turkey vulture during a class trip to Virginia Beach.
Garland, in her essay, wrote she felt high school was where “you discover who you are, what you want to do with your life, and who your friends are.” She wrote that since the age of 13, she wanted to be a baker and said while most kids would hate waking up at 6 a.m. to go to school, for her it was a privilege to speed three hours with Rose.
“You have been like a second mother to me and I don’t know how I am going to survive without seeing you everyday,” said Garland. “Thank you for being an amazing teacher, second mother, and most importantly a friend.”
Jackie Frost chose to speak openly and frankly about her choice for the award. Her essay was written in the form of a letter to Blankenship to make it easier to express her reasons for choosing her father, Randy.
“My dad’s a bus driver for Carroll, operating #36 at the time of my writing this and he’s an incredible human being. He has overcome obstacles in his life that would have ended a lesser man and he’s one of the strongest, most humble people I have ever encountered,” wrote Frost. “I don’t know of anyone else that could build an electric water pump that operated off his truck battery by hand in a single afternoon or who could also care for my mom’s elderly and incapacitated aunt with all the patience of a saint.”
She noted he can completely rebuild a car and “rock a baby to sleep faster than anyone else.” Frost wrote he “never expected more from me than I could give.”
Sydney Hawks chose Movita Utt, her seventh grade honors English teacher at St. Paul Elementary School. Hawks credited Utt with shaping her into “the driven person and hard working student that I am today.”
“She demands excellence, and will do whatever it takes to help her students achieve that excellence,” said Hawks. “She showed me that it was up to me to make sure that my work got done and that hard work truly does pay off in the end.” She said she was most thankful for Utt proof reading one of the most important essays ever written in her life, a college admissions essay for the University of Virginia.
Mattie Kennedy explained that her choice (her mother Pam) was going to a staff member “who undoubtedly has worked harder for my future success than anyone, myself included at times.” She praised her mother for sitting with her for hours “deciphering” SAT regulations, class changes and “various rambles” regarding difficult schoolwork.
“My journey with my Golden Cavalier started long before my time within the school system, but the lessons of valuing an education and hard work she instilled in me are the reason I am able to be here today,” Kennedy said. She said although she was tempted “to pack her mom up and take her to college with her,” she wouldn’t because she has more great work to accomplish for other students.
Meagan Phillips’s pick for Golden Cavalier was teacher Jessica Vaughn. Phillips said that although Vaughn had only been teaching for a semester, she had helped shape her into a better person.
“She not only has helped me mold my future through my career but she teaches life lessons that will be beneficial to me in the future,” said Phillips. “Any day that I come in with my head down, she will not start class until she knows what is wrong and does everything in her power to fix it. She is one teacher that I have that I consider one of my best friends. In ten years, if I am half the person she is, I’d be doing something right.”
Hannah Terry said she met her choice, Donna Ogle, on her first day of kindergarten. She noted her years in Carroll County Public Schools hadn’t always been easy but were enjoyable because of the support she had. Terry said she had decided to become a kindergarten teacher because of Ogle.
“I remember many tears that day and I am sure that I was not an easy student to deal with. Only the patience and gentle encouragement of my wonderful teacher, Mrs. Ogle, could have gotten me through that day,” said Terry. “She jump started my passion for learning and that of some of my friends who are also among the top ten. She started my school career on a positive note and for that I am very thankful. My goal is to one day be the teacher that makes a difference for one of my students, just as she made a difference for me.”
Sarah Turner told participants she also looks to a day when she can “pay it forward” due to the impact of teacher Rachelle Rasco. Turner said her junior and senior years had been the most challenging.
“My junior year was particularly rough because I began attending Governor’s School where I was enrolled in some of the toughest classes I had ever taken,” said Turner. She explained that Governor’s School Chemistry proved to be a nightmare but Rasco volunteered to help her out with tutoring.
Turner said Rasco was “nothing short of a lifesaver” and the difference between an A and an F. She said she maintained A’s for the entire year because of Rasco’s commitment to helping.
“She stayed after hours many a school day, patiently explaining things when she could have been at home spending time with her family,” Turner said. “At eighteen I’ve spent nearly three-quarters of my life in school. I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic as my senior year draws to a close. There are numerous people who stand out in my memory but there are few who have had the impact and influence that Rachelle has had on me.”
Brennan Vaught had an unusual twist to his presentation, noting he had asked Blankenship not to invite the person he had chosen as his Golden Cavalier for two reasons. The first being he wanted it to be a surprise. The second reason was she was coming anyway.
“My Golden Cavalier Award goes out to someone who has not only been there for me every step of my journey, but has helped and supported me with everything that I do. This person is my hero. They don’t know just how much they mean to me and how clueless I would be without them steering me in the right direction. You have made these past eighteen years as good as I could possibly imagine,” Vaught said before naming his mother, Tara, to the honor.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.