If an awards presentation ceremony held at St. Augustine Catholic School on Sunday, April 12 is any indication of the future of Ponoka, the community is in good hands as 47 Leaders of Tomorrow nominees were honoured in front of family and friends.
In the elementary categories, all 10 nominees walked away as winners while the junior and senior categories chose two of the 18 and 19 candidates, respectively.
In the junior category Derek Lange and Emma Wittal were chosen as the Leaders of Tomorrow; Hannah Allin and Virginia Harvey were named from the senior category.
“I think this is our highest number we’ve had,” said board chair Leanne Brusegard. “We were very impressed.”
Last year the program saw 32 youths nominated. Brusegard says the number is getting higher as both teachers and community members participated this year. She says having the community nominating outstanding students makes a huge difference in the program.
“It warms my heart and makes me feel proud to live in this community,” said Brusegard.
As the program nears its 20th year in the community, Brusegard says she had seen the ripple effect as more and more students encourage each other to get involved. “They don’t do it to be recognized, they do it because they enjoy what they’re doing.”
“It validates what they’re doing,” she added.
Having just being nominated as a Leader of Tomorrow will put an impressive mark on the students’ portfolios and help them achieve their future goals, Brusegard explained.
This is the 19th annual awards ceremony held in Ponoka and Miles Cymbaluk, representing SIRRS Law Group, one of the program’s two major sponsors (the other being Rowland, Parker and Associates), says although not everyone was named a winner, each student candidate is truly a leader in their community and worthy of the title Leader of Tomorrow.
“It’s a great group of award nominees and recipients. The community is doing a really good job of raising their children here,” said Cymbaluk.
Brusegard says without the support from the program’s sponsors, it would not have been able to continue this year. She added everyone is thankful for their continuing commitment to ensure the longevity of Leaders of Tomorrow in Ponoka.
Mayor Rick Bonnet was also in attendance and he stressed the fact that just being nominated is an achievement for the hardworking, selfless students. “Not everyone will be presented as winners here today, but in our hearts and minds you’re all winners.”
Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin told the students and the audience of his own experience with leadership in his younger years. At 18 years old, McLauchlin was made a park ranger and auxiliary RCMP member. He says his biggest lesson learned, when it comes to being a leader, was humility.
The day he saw a large group of people coming into the park with many coolers was the day he hurried down to bust them and jumped out of the vehicle before he took his seatbelt off.
With a laugh, McLauchlin said the church group with many Kool-Aid drinks in their coolers was very nice about helping untangle him from the seatbelt.
“Have fun and be humble,” said McLauchlin.
“I’m very proud of the community I’m a part of and today is a very good example of why I’m so proud,” he added.
Curt Baron, St. Augustine School principal, said there were three groups of people to thank for helping the nominees get to where they are: educators, parents and guardians, and the students themselves.
“To my fellow educators, I want to say job well done,” said Baron.
He believes teaching classes such as math and English are the easiest lessons a teacher will pass on to their students. “It’s the more intangible lessons that are the hardest.”
When it comes to parenting a child, Baron feels sacrifice, patience and dedication are key. “Thank you for giving those things,” he said.
With a world of knowledge and influences opening up to students via the Internet, Baron says never has the idea ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ been more important, nor has the phrase ‘home is where the heart is” needed to be truer.
“Finally to the students, kudos to you. Being a leader is hard work. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions. Sometimes you have to do what is right, not what is popular,” said Baron.
“Wear today as a badge of honor,” he added.