Local seniors accept the challenge

Mason Minter (from left), Amanda Taft, Jacob Fortunato Castrejon, Hayden Brookshire and Amanda Taft pose after the Accepting the Challenge of Excellence awards ceremony hosted by the Rome Exchange Club at their Friday meeting. / John Popham

Five local students stood before a panel of three judges and the entire Exchange Club of Rome on Friday and told them about overcoming physical, emotional or social obstacles that lay in the path of graduation.

One student each from Armuchee, Coosa, Model, Pepperell and Rome high schools were competing for the Accepting the Challenge of Excellence award. Pepperell High School’s nominee Mason Minter won the A.C.E. award and will be moving on to compete in a district competition. Minter, along with the other students, received scholarship money for competing.

“If I could rename this award it would be the OTO or the overcoming the odds award,” Frank Shropshire of the club said. “You have to understand these students anywhere along the way could have said ‘to heck with it I’m outta here’ ... but they didn’t.”

Each student was introduced by their school counselors who nominated them for the A.C.E. award. Each student then delivered a speech covering two parts. The first part was about an event in the students lives that they are most proud of with the second portion highlighting how they will help the community in the future.

Minter spoke on how he dealt with depression, anxiety and drug abuse at home. He told the Exchange Club how his mother fell in with the wrong crowd, how his stepfather did what he could and how he never wanted to come home. He is trying to decide on majoring in psychology or physical therapy, but knows he wants to help others in any way he can.

After the awards ceremony Minter said he felt extraordinary and that he did not come expecting to win.

“I just wanted to get my story across,” he said.

Armuchee’s Amanda Taft spoke first, describing the greatest moment of her life was testifying against her sexual abuser when she was a child. Taft wants to go to law school at the University of Georgia so she can become an advocate for other victims of abuse.

Coosa’s Jacob Fortunato Castrejon told Exchange Club members about his achievements in the academic decathlon. Castrejon wants to become a physical therapist to help those athletes who receive season ending injuries and let them know they are not alone.

Hayden Brookshire of Model talked about how he changed his attitude towards school, which has become increasingly difficult due to having cone light distrophy. He told the story of his educational journey and how he is working to earn scholarship money and take the financial burden of his college education off of his mother. He wants to go to college and study psychology so he can learn about mental health and wellness, which he would then use to help people in his community.

Lastly Rome High School’s representative Shannon Hughes spoke on how she watched cancer break her brother’s body but never his spirit. Hughes said she is proud to honor his legacy by working to become an oncologist.