MOUNT VERNON — Each year, the Exchange Club of Mount Vernon/Knox County honors students who have overcome hardship and adversity to get “back on track” to earn their high school diplomas. The guidance counselors at each area high school and the career center nominate one student apiece for the annual Accepting the Challenge of Excellence Awards. Nominees receive a check for $100, and the winner is given a $1,000 scholarship that is given to the school they choose to attend.
At Friday’s award luncheon held at The Alcove, the club honored this year’s nominees, who are all winners, according to ACE committee chairwoman Ginny Williams. She praised each student’s achievement and said the selection committee had a hard time choosing one overall winner. Each of the candidates, she said, had different challenges to overcome, whether they were physical, emotional or social obstacles to their academic or personal success, but overcome them they have.
“We, as a community, are very proud of each of you,” said Williams. “You are all winners for just being nominated. Remember this day as one of great achievement. You have all accepted the Challenge of Excellence.”
April Lynn Ray, Knox County Career Center, was the top ACE. She plans to attend Central Ohio Technical College and pursue a career in social work. Williams said Ray “wants to make the world a better place and help children in whatever manner to overcome things in their lives because she’s been there and done that.”
Ray’s guidance counselor, Kathie Brown, said she nominated Ray for being very brave.
“Even when she got discouraged,” Brown continued, “she never gave up. She would bounce back up and look for new solutions. Most of all, she was open to accepting the help that is available to her.”
“I almost cried when I found out I was the overall winner,” Ray said. “I am so excited. [The emotion] is just something I can’t explain.”
Tyler Mathias, “the Official Voice of the Trojans,” was nominated by Centerburg’s guidance counselor, Nancy Hull. He has overcome severe medical challenges to become president of his career-based intervention class, and does Mount Vernon baseball sports broadcasts for Eagle 93.7. He has been offered an internship with 6-10 WTVN, and plans to study sports broadcasting at the Ohio Center for Broadcasting or at American Broadcasting in Oklahoma.
Danville High School’s candidate, Paige Marie Mickley, was selected by counselor Randy Endsley.
“Paige has aspirations to attend Bowling Green University,” said Williams, “and plans to devote her studies to major in marine biology/veterinary science. Her struggles in this life have been medical, and being a survivor will continue to bring joy to her mother and all those around her.”
Mea Fraser, East Knox, was nominated by counselor Karen Smith. Williams said Fraser has been encouraged by her teachers to become a teacher herself.
“This fits right in from her home life of taking charge and being responsible at an early age,” said Williams. “Her plans are to attend Ashland University and to continue doing community service through Girl Scouts. ... Mea stands for Taking Charge and being the Best.”
Fredericktown’s Danielle McKenzie was unable to attend the luncheon. She was nominated by guidance counselor Lisa Fike for her courage in “facing a lot of struggles in her life.”
“She is the artist in the crowd and has been accepted to the School of Visual Arts in New York City,” said Williams. “We are so proud of Danielle to have faced a troubled past but to emerge victorious.”
David Carter, Mount Vernon guidance counselor, selected Krystal Hinchcliff “because of her remarkable transformation.”
“Krystal,” Williams said, “started out life in school as very backward and shy, but she is determined to succeed. She plans on attending Wittenberg University and major in East Asian Studies.”
The Exchange Club is a service organizations that participates in fundraising activities throughout the year to support the ACE awards and other community projects.