2020 High School Graduates “Their Stories, Their Lives”

The U.S. Department of Education’s President’s Education Awards Program (PEAP) would like to express best wishes to 2020 high school graduates who had quite a different conclusion to their school year but persisted and are ready for their next steps. Since 1983, PEAP has recognized millions of elementary, middle, and high school graduates from across the nation.

PEAP honorees are nominated by their principal based on established criteria. They receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education, as well as letters from each, distributed by our PEAP partner, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP).

The following stories of PEAP honorees were submitted by principals through NAESP as demonstrative of the achievement and improvement of recipients. We hope these students’ stories will inspire current and future graduates – as they inspired us – on their journey through life!

ROBERT THOMAS WATTS – Fayette County High School (Fayette, Alabama)

Principal, Dr. Jeremy Madden

Robert is diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, yet he excelled at Fayette County High School (FCHS) the past four years and graduated in the top 10% of his class. He is a four-year member of the FCHS Pride of the Tigers Marching Band. He has been awarded five-figure scholarships to the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama-Birmingham and has also accumulated nine dual enrollment hours at Bevill State Community College.

This school year, Robert was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence and achieved ACT WorkKeys Platinum Status. He also won the good citizenship award and the perfect attendance award at FCHS. He recently was notified that he will be marching at the Capstone this fall as a member of the University of Alabama Million Dollar Band.

ANASTASIYA ZASIMOVICH – Gainesville High School (Gainesville, Florida)          

Principal, David Shelnutt

Anastasiya has been a student in the Cambridge academic magnet program at Gainesville High School for four years. During her sophomore year, she was struck by a vehicle, sustaining a traumatic brain injury that typically leaves people permanently disabled. She spent a week in a coma and a half a year in intensive rehabilitation re-learning to walk, speak, and carry out basic life functions.

Anastasiya overcame the tremendous obstacles arising from the injury and two surgeries to graduate with a nearly 4.9 weighted GPA and achieve a 1540 on the SAT. She is set to attend the University of Florida in the fall and hopes to become a doctor so she can help others overcome health obstacles in their lives.

NICHOLAS STAHRR – Lancaster High School (Lancaster, New York)

Principal, Cesar Marchioli

Nick and his twin were diagnosed with a physical disability, Quad CP, at birth. As a result of his condition, he requires the use of a power wheelchair as his primary means of transportation. He has also suffered from vision impairment. While he is able to see with the use of glasses, he must utilize a slant board, keyboard overlays, and handheld magnifiers in order to see items properly.

Nick has not allowed any of his disabilities to stop him from participating in school activities and impacting those around him. He joined the band and played the bass drum without skipping a beat. He also has a special love of sports, so he joined the football team as a team manager and makes every practice, rain or shine. In recent years, he inspired the team on their trip to play in the state championship game. When team members decided to get mohawk haircuts to promote team unity, he was among the first. After losing a close but tough game, upon returning to the classroom, Nick said “It was tough, but we just have to do it again next year, because you can never give up on your goals or your dreams!” This is Nick!

He brings the same attitude to the classroom and the community that he brings to the sports arena. In a school of several thousand students, Nick is easily one of the most easily recognized and well-liked students, not because of his disability but because of his ability to bring a smile to all those he meets and inspire the same positive attitude he possesses in each of them. He also participates with his family in the Bowmansville volunteer fire department.

ANTHONY CHICCITT – Bethel Park High School (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania)

Principal, Dr. Zeb Jansante

Anthony was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a junior. He went through treatments while continuing to excel academically and playing three varsity sports (football, basketball, and baseball). This fall, he resumed his role as starting quarterback, leading the Black Hawks into first place in the conference.

While his parents are happy to see him competing at full strength, they are even more happy knowing Anthony can handle anything life will throw his way. “You know that there will never be anything he can’t handle. And as a parent, it’s wonderful to know, because one day he won’t be here and you know that he’ll be able to take care of himself and handle everything that comes to him,” his mother says.

LAUREN ORLANDO – Great Bridge High School (Chesapeake, Virginia)

Principal, Jeffrey S. Johnson

Lauren was in a very serious car accident in which she sustained major injuries and nearly died. While she faced severe recovery challenges, her family and friends were always there for her, and her doctors and therapists gave her the motivation to cope with her injuries. Life happens, and she chose to never give up.

Lauren’s therapists changed her life for the better in so many ways, and she wanted to be more like them every day. She initially practiced helping others by working with her P.E. teacher, assisting in the adaptive physical education class.

Now, Lauren would like to pursue a degree in speech-language pathology. She wants to inspire others to keep moving forward and to be a constant support to them. She quotes Ernest Hemingway when he said, “Life breaks everyone, but some people become stronger in the broken places.” Lauren’s goal is to be the light for people in their darkest times and always give them hope, to never give up.

LOGAN JONES  – Charles J. Colgan, Sr. High School (Manassas, Virginia)

Principal, Dr. Timothy L. Healey

Logan lives with autism, a developmental disorder that makes social interactions and communication difficult. As a result, he always struggled to create and maintain peer relations. He was young when his father passed away and, unable to cope with both his emotions and the increasing pressures of a teenager, he began to suffer academically while in high school.

During his senior year, Logan realized that his upcoming graduation meant he would be leaving the familiar comfort of his school. Compounded with the fear of losing his mother if/when he went off to college, he began to intentionally fail a course to stave off the impending changes. As the year progressed, though, and the excitement of graduation mounted among his classmates, he realized that he wanted to graduate with his peers.

With an increased focus on his academics and a determination to not be left behind, Logan persevered. He was able to bring his grade up, pass his class, and graduate on time.

LUCAS AMRINE – W. F. West High School (Chehalis, Washington)

Principal, Bob Walters

As a child, Lucas overcame a severe speech impediment. He spent years in speech therapy and in hard work with his family to improve his speech. From that experience he developed a strong work ethic and resilience that has served him well. He has had to work very hard to improve his vision, as he also had amblyopia as a young child. He attributes his ability to overcome this obstacle as a key to achieving success as a student.

Lucas has developed a well-rounded resume for university admissions that features leadership and service to school and community and has done all this in a self-directed manner. He has worked hard to manage his time and develop a personal code of integrity. He established himself in a positive peer group and developed a strong network of support with school and community leaders. He is kind and inclusive and takes the high road, believing in the best in people and encouraging them.

To cultivate his leadership skills, Lucas stepped up as a freshman to assume critical roles and develop his oral and written communication skills. He also persevered to overcome anxiety in jazz band by pushing himself to make solo performances when he had the opportunity.

We continue to accept and fulfill orders for PEAP during school closures so that student recognition can continue seamlessly once in-school presence resumes. Principals may place a 2020 order by contacting PEAP-ACA Customer Service Center at 1-877-897-4784 or PEAP-ACA_Orders@abdintl.com.

Submitted by Frances Hopkins, Director, President’s Education Awards Program at the U.S. Department of Education