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Millcreek Journal

Sterling Scholar winners at Skyline and Olympus are an inspiring group

May 12, 2021 11:46AM ● By Heather Lawrence

“They are destined for amazing things and they’ve inspired me during this difficult year,” said Angela Wheeler, Skyline High School counselor working with Sterling Scholars. (Skyline High School)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Sterling Scholar nominees in the Wasatch Front Region watched from the comfort of their homes on March 18 to find out who won. The Deseret News-sponsored contest skipped the usual in-person awards event due to the pandemic, and instead announced results on Facebook and YouTube. 

“All our nominees are top-notch kids who are taking life by the horns, and they want to serve others. We’ve become a very close group over the year. I could go on and on about each one of them,” said Angela Wheeler, a counselor at Skyline High School. 

Eight of Skyline’s 14 nominees went on as finalists. Four were named as runners-up and one was an overall winner. Olympus High School had seven students advance to the finals, with one named as an overall winner.

Skyline’s Lia James was named the English runner-up. She watched the show at home with her mom. “I was proud and sort of surprised when they announced my name. I respect my fellow competitors, and it felt surreal to even be a finalist, much less a runner-up in my category,” she said. 

James is the captain of the slam poetry team at Skyline and invested a lot of energy this year in the Sterling Scholar competition. 

“It’s been a hard year for lots of people. I’ve found that, at least for me, it has been as important to celebrate my small accomplishments as it is to savor large triumphs,” James said. 

James sums it up with a line from one of her poems: “I will not give up and play victim to my victories.”

Sasha Wilkinson, a good friend of James, was a Vocal Performance nominee. She watched from home with her family, including her grandparents and younger twin brothers. 

“I was mostly nervous not to disappoint them—they are convinced I am some kind of celebrity at this point, and I didn’t want the illusion to fade,” Wilkinson said. 

Wilkinson had no reason to worry—she was named a runner-up and received messages of support from her Skyline friends. “When they announced my name I was truly shocked. Lia James and Aarushi Verma both sent me the sweetest messages.”

Aarushi Verma was watching for her category, Social Science, to be announced, too. She was so anxious to hear the results that she skipped through the recording until she found her category. Her mom was with her when she learned she’d won the Sterling Scholar award.  

“It felt really good to hear my name. I’ve dedicated a large portion of my high school experience to social science activities, so it’s validating to see that my passion [led] to a win,” Verma said. 

Verma was back to work the next day attending a rally at the state Capitol Building to bring attention to climate change. “A ton of students came up to me to congratulate the achievement and learn more about the award. People were so encouraging,” she said. 

Verma isn’t the only student trying to change the world for the better. Brynne MacWilliams is trying to convince Granite District to convert to 100% renewable energy. For this and other projects, she was the Science nominee from Skyline. 

“I kept saying to [my family] while we watched that it didn’t matter because I didn’t think I would place, but I was still extremely nervous. My heart was beating so hard, and then I saw my picture come up on the screen as a runner-up.

“I didn’t hear a single word the hosts said after my face came up on screen. I was so overwhelmed. All of my friends and teachers have been so supportive throughout this process,” MacWilliams said. 

Wheeler wasn’t surprised at MacWilliams’s win. “She’s been involved in science since she was a kid, and has done a lot of projects with Shriners Hospitals. 

“Like all our nominees, Brynne is an exemplary student: she’s done cross country, she’s vice president of the National Honor Society and the president of the school’s international service and education club,” Wheeler said. MacWilliams is also a National Merit Scholarship winner. 

Olympus High’s winning student was Camilla Lunt. Lunt won in the Family and Consumer Sciences category. Lunt has traveled to more than 21 countries and 26 states to learn about other cultures and foods. 

Lunt is also an FCCLA winner. She put her sewing skills to work during the pandemic, and sewed more than 100 masks for frontline workers. 

“I have no doubt that all of these students will be successful. They inspire me. I don’t need to be worried about the future— – these guys are amazing, and the future is in good hands,” Wheeler said.