OLEAN — For the first time since 2019, students from area school districts gathered with parents and school officials to celebrate their scholastic achievements Thursday night at the Big 30 Academic Scholarship Banquet.
Students received congratulations as well as advice for the future at the banquet, which recognizes a senior “academic all-star” from each of the 32 school districts in the Olean Times Herald’s Twin Tiers coverage area, known as the Big 30.
As is tradition, one of last year’s scholarship winners gave an address. Mitchell Barker, the recipient from Bradford (Pa.) Area High School, was in a similar place a year ago as the honored students are today — preparing for college.
“Up until now, you’ve been academically preparing for college,” he said. “However, that’s not the only preparation that’s required to go to college, and some things are going to blindside you.”
While going off to college may seem scary, Barker told the students present that they will learn a number of life lessons they might not otherwise learn if they don’t make some mistakes along the way.
Offering some tips on what to expect at college, Barker said homework and projects will take longer, classes will be larger and move quickly, the lessons will be more challenging and students will have to reach out to the professors if they need help.
“A general theme in college is that you are becoming more responsible for yourself, and this is even true with your schedule,” he said. “It helps you avoid having to pull all-nighters to complete assignments or the Sunday line when trying to do laundry.”
Barker encourage the students to get involved with clubs and extracurriculars, not only to expand their experiences but to meet new people who can help them learn more about the world and all the different points of view.
“For 18 years now, you’ve been in this one portion of your life, and college is the door to the next part of your life,” he added. “You’ve gotten this far — even being here tonight says something about you academically. You have the skills you need, and because you have the skills you don’t have to be afraid of what college throws at you.”
In his keynote speech, Dr. Steven Mauro, the new president of SUNY Alfred State College, commended the students for achieving excellent successes in and out of the classroom.
“I think that’s an important thing because it tells me that you are finding your passions by doing the things that continue to motive and challenge you and help you find your purpose in life,” he said. “We call that finding your ‘Why,’ and it’s the things that get you up early in the morning and keep you up late at night.”
Mauro shared his “Why” with the students: to transform lives in the world around him by making what could be considered impossible into something possible. From support he had from teachers in high school and making scientific discoveries in college to the special relationships that inspire and helping others, he said many factors play into each person finding their purpose.
“That purpose in your life, that ‘Why’ I mentioned, it’s all important, it’s all encompassing, because it’s going to fortify you when you encounter the obstacles along the way and allow you to understand a failure in something is not the end of the world or may not even a failure at all,” he said.
Mauro said a personal failure during his first attempt at attending college inspired him to find his “Why” and the failure was an awakening. He cautioned the students that, if they fail, to fail fast, forward and learn something along the way.
“Each of you have already achieved so very much, and I hope that you seek ways to continue to grow, that you find your ‘Why’ if you haven’t already,” he added. “Think about the world around you, how you can help one another and how you can make contributions to your community and society.”
Sponsored by the Times Herald and Big 30-area principals, the event has bestowed more than $65,000 in scholarships over the last three decades and another six students received $1,000 Big 30 scholarships Thursday night at the Old Library.
The six students to receive scholarships, which are based on everything from academics to community service, were Olivia Hanks of Andover, Corey Field of Scio, Jessica Majot of Bolivar-Richburg, Tess Kocjancic of Johnsonburg, Pa., Josh Greville of Kane, Pa. and Tripp Hoover of Bradford, Pa.
Other members of the 2022 Big 30 Academic All-Stars are: Bradley Walton of Allegany-Limestone, Jaden Enders of Belfast, Hayden Brown of Cameron County, Pa., Alexandra Minnekine of Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Logan Ruter of Coudersport, Pa., Rachel Dyche of Cuba-Rushford, Elsa Woodarek of Ellicottville, Carter Sisson of Fillmore, Tarryn Herman of Franklinville, Jaedyn Shields of Friendship, Kimberly Butler of Genesee Valley, Christy Childs of Hinsdale, Courtney Martin of Northern Potter (Pa.) High School, Alexis Trietley of Olean, Rachael Taylor of Oswayo Valley (Pa.) High School, Kaylee Rhinehart of Otto-Eldred (Pa.) High School, Zachary Holmes of Pioneer, River Cramer of Port Allegany, Pa., Thomas Scanlon of Portville, Luke Pagett of Randolph, Julie Peterson of Ridgway, Pa., Alicia Fiske of Salamanca, Corey Field of Scio, August Cox of Smethport, Pa., Brooklyn Stisser of Wellsville, Lucas Proseus of West Valley and Rachel Jackson of Whitesville.