Column: Honoring our student leaders

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on April 29, 2009

Lorenza Branecki is exactly the type of student the Chronicle Achievement Program is meant to recognize.

The Burlington Central senior has worked two jobs this year while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.

Branecki, 18, said she works anywhere from 30 to 52 hours a week at Target and as an attendant at a Meijer gas station. And as if that wasn’t enough, she was on the honor roll, she was an Illinois Music Educators Association all-state performer, she was the senior class vice president and was involved in just about every club Central has.

Oh, to be that young and have that much energy again.

“Yeah, it gets a little overwhelming,” she said, “but you have to do what you have to do.”

In fact, she said, sometimes she doesn’t get around to doing her homework until after midnight.

“Luckily, I don’t get too much homework,” she said with a laugh.

Branecki was one of 60 high school seniors honored Wednesday night at the Chronicle Achievement Program’s Evening of Applause, which recognizes high school student leaders from Batavia, Burlington Central, Geneva, Kaneland, Marmion, Mooseheart, Rosary, St. Charles East, St. Charles North and South Elgin.

The students who were nominated for this recognition are high school seniors who excelled academically, participated in a wide variety of extracurricular activities and volunteered their time and talents to help others.

The Chronicle Achievement Program has been a part of The Chronicle’s Newspapers in Education program for more than 13 years, and we’re thrilled to continue to get the chance to recognize the outstanding young people in our community.

Seven of the students also were randomly selected to win $500 scholarships, which The Chronicle was able to provide through a donation from the Sylvan Learning Center. Branecki was one of the seven to win the scholarship. She has won a few other scholarships, but won’t deny that another one will be a help to her.

“Oh, it will be,” she said, adding that she was surprised her name was drawn at all. “I don’t win at anything. I don’t even win at bingo.”

Branecki will attend Eastern Illinois University and plans on majoring in music performance and participating in the marching band. She plays the French horn.

Her mother, Mary Branecki, admits that she was whispering “pick her, pick her, pick her” when the names were being selected.

“This helps big time,” Mary said. “We’re thrilled.”

The six others who received the $500 scholarship were Kelly Verstat of St. Charles North, Kally Fayhee of Rosary, Justine Walley of St. Charles East, Sandra Tolson of Mooseheart, John Khamo of Burlington Central and the parents of Johnathon McNeil of Geneva, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The parents can donate the scholarship to the student of their choice.

While just seven names were drawn for the scholarship, every student honored through the Chronicle Achievement Program certainly deserved one. And it’s also important to remember that there were many deserving seniors who simply didn’t get selected this year but easily could have been one of those in attendance last night.

And even though we couldn’t honor them through the program this year, we certainly honor them in spirit.

We have some fantastic young people in our communities. And it will be even more fantastic to see what they do with their future.

Joe Grace is the editor of the Chronicle. You can write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

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