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“Best of the best” honored from local schools

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Top 10 grads told there are opportunities in WNY

Photos by Tom Rivers – Nicole Blackburn of Holley is recognized for being a Top 10 graduate. She shakes hands with Robert D’Angelo, Holley’s school superintendent.

Hannah Albone of Lyndonville is congratulated for being a Top 10 graduate by Ted Lewis, president of the Board of Education at Lyndonville.

HOLLEY – The top 10 graduates from four Orleans County school districts were celebrated on Thursday and given medallions, certificates and praise.

Hickory Ridge hosted the 28th annual Academic Awards Excellence Dinner. The tradition honors the Top 10 from each district and is a chance for students, their parents, and school administrators and Board of Education members to get together.

“It’s all about building community support for education and recognizing the rural districts are doing great things,” said Jason Smith, superintendent of schools for Lyndonville, which hosted Thursday’s event.

The annual dinner and awards program helps the local districts build collaborations and partnerships, Smith said.

“We want to recognize academics,” he said. “We want to celebrate the best of the best.”

Holley, Kendall, Lyndonville and Medina all join for the annual event. Albion has its own convocation awards dinner and includes students with a cumulative grade point average of at least 90 percent in high school. Albion typically has 30 to 40 students at that level and didn’t want to limit its honors grads to the Top 10.

Medina school officials support the Top 10 dinner, where students meet other students from nearby districts and see where those students are going for college or their other plans for the future.

“They see beyond themselves and other kids who will be joining them at the next level,” said Jeff Evoy, Medina Central School superintendent. “These are great kids and they make us proud.”

James-Michael Soho of Medina is graduating in the top 10 and heading to Clarkson University to study engineering.

“It really feels great to achieve something so prestigious,” he said. “I feel so privileged to be here with others in the community.”

Soho said Medina creates a culture for striving in the classroom. Many of his closest friends are also in the Top 10.

“There is a lot of friendly rivalries,” he said. “We’re all there to push each other.”

Dustin Furness of Kendall is congratulated by Adam Tabelski, representative for State Sen. George Maziarz, during the Academic Excellence Awards Dinner at Hickory Ridge Country Club. Each honors student received citations from the State Senate and Assembly.

Lyndonville graduate Jonathan Oakes, a winemaker and grape grower from Lyndonville, addresses the Top 10 graduates.

Jennifer Hendel is graduating ranked sixth in Holley’s Class of 2014. She is going to Fredonia State College to major in liberal arts. She played volleyball at Holley, performed in school musicals and is a member of the marching band.

The Top 10 students all tend to be heavily involved in the school, maintaining high grades while doing numerous extracurricular activities.

“It’s a balancing act,” Hendel said.

She appreciated the dinner on Thursday, and the chance to be recognized with her parents and the other students.

“It gives us a chance to meet the other Top 10,” she said.

As the honors students prepare to head off to college or the military, they were encouraged to think of their hometown and Western New York region as their future destination.

Jonathan Oakes, 31, is a Lyndonville graduate. He returned to the family farm at age 20 in 2003 and worked with family members to establish the Leonard Oakes Estate Winery on Ridge Road in Medina. Oakes studied wine making and viticulture across the border at Niagara College in Ontario.

Leonard Oakes has won numerous awards for wine-making and the business has allowed the farm to diversify.

Oakes was keynote speaker for Thursday’s dinner. He admitted when he was in high school he was eager to leave the small town. He attended Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., for anthropology. He changed his plans when his father and the family welcomed the idea of a winery at LynOaken Farms.

Oakes has been the driving force behind the winery, a venture that utilizes his love of history, science, art and a passion for the area.

Rachel Ackles of Kendall accepts a medallion and recognition from Kendall Central School Superintendent Julie Christensen, left, and BOE President Nadine Hanlon.

“I found something to believe in that centered around family, community and legacy,” Oakes told the crowd at Hickory Ridge.

Orleans County and the Niagara region are among the most beautiful places on earth. The land is fertile and the community rich in heritage, Oakes said.

“We live in a region with tremendous agricultural and historical wealth,” Oakes said. “The greater Western New York area is quickly reclaiming history and marrying it to our sense of place.”

Oakes shared a French term among wine-makers, the word “Terroir.” It means “a sense of place.” For grapes and wine, the Terroir is influenced by soil structure, geology and slope, hydrology and proximity to water, weather patterns and orientation to the sun, Oakes said.

The Top 10 have a Terroir, and their parents and families, town and community, teachers and friends have all had a hand in designing the students’ identity.

“They have helped to form the fingerprint of which you will leave on this world,” Oakes said. “Go out into the world but do not give up your sense of place.”

The following were honored from each school district:

HOLLEY – Nicole Blackburn, Daniel Flanagan, Jennifer Hendel, Emily Kordovich, Shelby Kunker, Nicole Mauro, Savanna Merriam, Claudia Passarell, Emily Skehan and Morgan Zona.

KENDALL – Rachel Ackles, Nicole Browe, Dustin Furness, Alyssa Hering, Kari Hurlbutt, Allison Knapp, Cuyler Nix, Tyler Smith, Tessa Vick and Caelan Welch.

LYNDONVILLE – Fauzia Aajan, Hannah Albone, Tiffani Durow, Justin Edwards, Abigail Feldman, Zachery Karp, Jonathan Marciszewski, Heather Mufford, Jacon Wachob and Ashley Woodworth.

MEDINA – Emilee Austin, Scott Barber, Alicia Cochrane, Anthony Levesque, Elizabeth Meyer, Cameron Morgan, Anthony Pane, Matthew Prawel, Barry Rogenmoser and James Soha.