ELIZABETH–Benedictine Academy, the all-female Catholic college prep high school in Elizabeth, has won the prestigious Jefferson Award “National Gold Medal for Public Service”. Students at Benedictine Academy received top recognition in the nation on June 19 in Washington, D.C. as they competed against over 350 other Students In Action Service Leadership Schools across the country for the “Greatest Public Service by a High School” award.
The Jefferson Gold Medal was awarded to Benedictine Academy in recognition of students’ civil advocacy in the area of Human Trafficking; systemic change in “legislation for the protection of Good Samaritans; and for engaging other young people in delivering happiness through their compassionate action to help others. Accepting the Jefferson Gold Medal for “Greatest Public Service by a High School” on behalf of Benedictine Academy were recent graduates Dannah Laguitan, Andrea Mendoza, and Ariana Taveras, Class of 2012, supported by their moderators, Linda Michalski, Ashley Powell, and Sister Donna Jo Repetti, OSF.
Ariana Taveras, President of the Benedictine Academy Students In Action Globe Changers, received the honor of speaking to the assembly of over 500 dignitaries, honorees, and invited guests who attended the Washington, D.C. Gala celebration, regarding the significance of the Jefferson Award to young people’s lives at Benedictine Academy. She received a standing ovation. “Jefferson Awards lit the fire in us to take compassionate action to new heights that were amazing,” Taveras said. “We spoke before House Assemblies to propose the Good Samaritan Law amendments and before the United Nations to take steps to abolish modern day slavery. Jefferson Awards inspired us to inspire others to get involved, and literally unleashed the passion in the depths of our beings to do something to transform our society into a more empathetic civilization,” she related.
The National Jefferson Gold Award for “Greatest Public Service by a High School” was presented to Benedictine Academy at an evening gala held at historic Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. Students were in the company of other Jefferson Award winners who received accolades for their public volunteer service. They included: David H. Petraeus, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and four star General who led the United States Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; musician and actor Harry Connick, Jr.; musician Branford Marsalis; Football Hall Of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills; Hockey Hall of Fame player Pat LaFontane; Charlie Kimball, from the world of race car driving; and, violin virtuoso Jourdan Urbach. All have given countless hours of public service in various areas of their communities. Lesley Stahl, CBS News Anchor, was Mistress of Ceremonies.
“We are so proud of the phenomenal accomplishments of the Benedictine Academy students and staff,” Benedictine Academy President Sister Germaine Fritz, OSB, commented. “Our teachers are architects, leaders, and mentors with tireless energy and Spirit-filled desire to inspire our students to build a better world”, added Kenneth Jennings, Principal.
The Jefferson Award, Known as the “Nobel Prize for Service”, was founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Onassis, Sam Beard, and Senator Robert Taft, Jr. “to recognize and honor individuals whose community volunteer efforts best exemplify dedication to enhancing the quality of life in their local and global communities”. Each year, Jefferson Awards receives over 40,000 nominations for individuals, youth groups, athletes, and non-profit organizations that are making remarkable contributions in our world.
“It was a most awe-inspiring, humbling experience for Benedictine Academy to be awarded the National Jefferson Gold Award for ‘Greatest Public Service by a High School’”, Linda Michalski, Benedictine Academy’s Campus Minister commented. “We are so proud and undeserving to stand alongside some great humanitarians , and in the shadows of the great leaders of our planet, people such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the Kennedys, Sam Beard and Robert Taft Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa, who have all gone before us,” she added. She acknowledged that participating in Jefferson Awards “challenged us to expand our horizons beyond the 12 square miles of Elizabeth to 57 million square miles of our planet. And they gave us the tools, the framework, and the network of support to do it.” “Our goal was to start a movement, to ignite our love for humankind, by delivering happiness, one act of kindness at a time. Everyone could ‘Do Something’”, Michalski noted.
Earlier this year, Benedictine Academy won the 2012 “New Jersey Regional Jefferson Students in Action Competition”, which resulted in the school receiving a “GOLD Jefferson Award” Medal. Additionally, the Campus Ministry student leaders this past academic year were awarded both the “NJ Governor’s Jefferson Award”, and, the “NJ Make Service Count Challenge Award”, an initiative of the NJ Governor’s Jefferson Award, for their outstanding volunteer efforts in Peace & Justice; Citizenship; and Community Improvement. Last year, Michalski, who served as advisor to the students, was awarded the “Jefferson Outstanding Mentor of the Year Award”.
Senior Globe Changers Laguitan, Mendoza and Taveras represented an entire group of Benedictine Academy student leaders during the trip to Washington, D.C., including graduating seniors Caroline Antonio, Cheila Cardosa, Cassandra Francois, Brittany Henderson, Maryann Nwako, and Cinthya Pizarro; juniors Kai Alexander, Krystal Burns, Samantha Frejuste, Samantha Herrejon, Milagros Lema; sophomores Leila Fragiacomo, Imani Greene, Harpreet Kaur, Ewa Kowalski, Joyce Mendoza, Sydney Sigue, Jada Yarbough; and freshmen Eileen Conaty and Toni-Wilson Davis; and, the entire Benedictine Staff and Student Community.
Benedictine Academy (BA), won the prestigious Jefferson Award “National Gold Medal for Public Service” on June 19 in Washington, D.C. Students from the all-female Catholic college prep high school in Elizabeth received top recognition in the nation as they competed against over 350 other Students In Action (SIA) Service Leadership Schools across the country for the “Greatest Public Service by a High School” award. Pictured at a Gala ceremony in the nation’s capital are (l-r): Karen Hatcher (Jefferson Awards SIA Regional NJ Director), student Andrea Mendoza (SIA Leader, BA Class of 2012), student Ariana Taveras (SIA President, BA Class of 2012), Linda Michalski (Theology Chairperson, Co- Moderator of SIA), Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Sr. Donna Jo Repetti, OSF (Director of Guidance at the Academy), and student Dannah Laguitan (SIA Leader, BA Class of 2012). Absent from photo- Ashley Powell (English Teacher, Students In Action Co-Moderator)
Ariana Taveras, Class of 2012, President of the Benedictine Academy Students In Action Globe Changers, received the honor of addressing the assembly of over 500 dignitaries, honorees, and invited guests who attended the Jefferson Awards Gala celebration in Washington, D.C. on June 19. Taveras spoke regarding the significance of the Jefferson Award to young people’s lives at Benedictine Academy. “Jefferson Awards lit the fire in us to take compassionate action to new heights that were amazing,” Taveras said. She received a standing ovation.
The preliminary Gala Events began Monday evening June 18 in Washington, D.C. with the presentation of the Jefferson Gold Awards for the 13 Regional Award-winning high schools across the United States of America, including Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth. Students at the Academy were also presented with an autographed lithograph by famed artist Peter Max of the White House for the Jefferson Awards Students In Action 2012 Outstanding Service by a New Jersey High School. Pictured holding the lithograph are (l-r): Robert Sakowitz, Board Member of the Jefferson Awards; and Benedictine Academy Students In Action Globe Changers Leaders, Class of 2012, Dannah Laguitan, Andrea Mendoza, and Ariana Taveras.
(l-r): At Washington, D.C. Gala: Gokce Yurekli, Jefferson Award New Jersey Regional SIA Staff; Linda Michalski (Benedictine Academy Theology Chairperson, SIA Co-Moderator), Robert Provost ( Marketing Director of the Star Ledger- Jefferson Awards Media Partner), Karen Hatcher (Jefferson Awards SIA Regional NJ Director), Andrea Mendoza (SIA Leader, Class of 2012), Ariana Taveras (SIA President, Class of 2012), Dannah Laguitan (SIA Leader, Class of 2012), Zachery Certner (Jefferson Award Youth Service Challenge Winner), and Sr. Donna Jo Repetti, OSF (Benedictine Academy Director of Guidance).
(Photos courtesy of Benedictine Academy)