Students of the year represent St. John’s diversity

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE — There are many factors that can set a student apart from his or her classmates. The class brain, the class clown, the class jock — all of these possess talents that make them memorable and exceptional. A person chosen to be student of the year, however, must be a little of each, a well-rounded and active member of his or her school community capable of representing the ideals of a district’s educational system.

St. John the Baptist Parish educators recently chose its students of the year from a pool of the most talented fifth-, eighth- and 12th- graders. After much time devoted to interviewing and reading essays, 12th-grader Sean Thomas, eighth-grader Aubrey Stewart and fifth-grader Corey Samuel Jr. emerged as the district’s top students for the 2010-11 school year.

Thomas, a senior at East St. John High School, describes himself as a problem solver. It’s a good trait to have both in and out of the classroom.

“I happen to be very gifted with numbers,” said Thomas.

Unsurprisingly, this soon-to-be graduate enjoys math and plans to pursue a pre-med degree at one of the universities he is currently considering, a group that includes Harvard, Columbia and Princeton. This despite the fact science is one of his least favorite subjects in school.

“I like to deal with stuff I can control,” he said.

Still, despite the copious amount of science classes he will have to take while pursuing a medical degree, Thomas said he approaches the work with a different mindset, with the mindset of a problem solver.

“If I see someone sick, I’ll solve the problem,” he said, adding, “When I have a goal set, I’ll study anything.”

It is that drive that has allowed Thomas to soar past the social pressures of the average American teenager to the top of his class.

Said Thomas, “When it was time to focus, I focused.”

It is not that he stays holed up in his room or the library — Thomas plays basketball and is a member of the Future Business Leaders, Beta Club, Interact Club and is very involved in his church — but Thomas is one teenager who has his priorities in order.

“At times it can be very challenging,” he said. “I see it as a personal responsibility.”

That sense of responsibility has given Thomas a perspective different from that of many of his classmates. Instead of trying to find a scapegoat for the times when things do not work out quite like he had planned, Thomas instead looks at himself and asks, “What did I do wrong?”

Thomas also has his personal priorities straight, counting God, his father and older brother and his pastor among his role models and is quick to give credit where credit is due.

“Because of the gift that God gave me in the classroom, I just did my best on every assignment,” he said.

At the other end of the spectrum of his teenage years, 13-year-old Stewart, an eighth-grader at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, represents a different type of student of the year, one who may not know quite where he is going but who knows what he wants when he gets there.

Stewart said when he contemplated entering his final year at LPE, he decided he would try to be as active and involved as possible.

“Recently, I just kind of turned into that kind of person,” he said. “I never really liked the attention, but over the summer I just developed the philosophy that if something went wrong, it would go away eventually.”

That change in philosophy led Stewart to join the football and wrestling teams and the Chess Club and to become the president of the Beta Club and a senator on the Student Council.

For Stewart, the world seems to have suddenly opened up, and he wants to explore as much of it as possible.

Naming Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci as his biggest role model, Stewart said, “There is no limit to human intelligence.”

Although he is not yet sure where he is heading career-wise, science is sure to play a major role in Stewart’s future.

“It’s been able to help us in ways we couldn’t even imagine,” he said. “As science has progressed, we have improved society. It helps us see things in a different way.”

Stewart said he has considered a career with either the FBI or in medicine, fields that use science profusely for the benefit of mankind.

Despite his lofty dreams and goals, Stewart’s ultimate ambitions reveal a side not unlike those of his peers and humanity in general.

“When I die, I have to be remembered,” he said.

Also from Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, Samuel, the fifth-grade St. John student of the year, shares Stewart’s ambitions but has concentrated his talents in a completely different manner.

Samuel was born to entertain, so it is no wonder his teachers took notice and selected him for the honor.

“It’s just natural,” he said. “All of my family is like this.”

He continued, “I was like 5 years old. My older sister was always walking around singing, and I thought, ‘What if I could do that?'”

Samuel is the proverbial triple threat when it comes to entertainment. A singer, dancer and actor, the boy’s mind is clearly set on the world of entertainment as a career.

“I’m going to show them that I can be different,” he said.

Samuel said he might even follow in LaPlace’s Jordan Dorsey’s footsteps and audition for “American Idol” someday. And while he wants to attend a college that specializes in the arts such as Juilliard in New York, Samuel realizes the importance of focusing on his studies.

Pointing to his head, he said, “I want to get as much of this as possible. If I want to be an actor, I have to have a lot of preparation.”

He even looks to Thomas Edison as one of his role models.

“It’s so inspiring to see that he could do all those things,” he said.

Besides a love and respect for those who use their minds to the fullest, Samuel shares another trait with his eighth-grade counterpart.

Said Samuel, “I want to have a legacy.”