CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News
They may have handed out only four awards at the 15th annual Leaders of Tomorrow ceremony but all of the nominees were winners on April 10 at Diamond Willow Middle School.
Kelly McCheyne was the master of ceremonies and spoke of the importance of recognizing the hard work young people do in the community.
“Every student that is here today has worked very hard to make a difference in their school — I think we have all the schools represented — and to make a difference in our great community. We are so proud of their endeavours and we know that they are all future leaders of tomorrow,” said McCheyne.
Coun. Doug Gill brought greetings from the Town of Ponoka.
“I’m very impressed to see such a great turnout for this important occasion as we honor youth in our community. The youth of this community are certainly doing well and your accomplishments, leadership and volunteerism are a source of pride for your families, your school and the community,” said Gill. “You are all positive role models for your peers and a very valuable resource to the town of Ponoka. You are our future.”
Ponoka County Reeve Gordon Svenningsen began by sharing a story about spending time in DWMS. He remembered the room where the event took place was the old library, a place where he spent a lot of time growing up as a kid — in detention.
“The young people who are being honored today, as I look at the crowd, some of your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were true builders of our community and we know you are following in their footsteps,” said Svenningsen.
The junior category comprised eight nominees from grades 6 to 8. An independent panel from outside of Ponoka reviewed each kids contribution to the community and when it was all said and done, McKenzie Henderson and Regan Corkery were the two winners.
The senior division, which is made up of students from grades 9 to 12, had eight nominees. Kiara Kjenner and Sarah Davis were the recipients of the awards recognizing their outstanding contributions to Ponoka.
Kjenner and Davis were shocked that they were selected as the two award winners, recognizing the talents and hard work of all of the nominees.
“I was surprised because there was lots of nominees that were really good,” said Davis who is organizing the Ponoka Relay for Life.
“I felt we all deserved to be up there. We are all leaders. It felt good to be recognized and be noticed for the hard work we are doing and the effort we are putting in to make the community better,” said Kjenner.
One of the powerful moments of the ceremony came when siblings Isatu and Amara Fofanah stepped up the microphone as special guest speakers.
The two spoke passionately about their journey to Canada from Africa and some of the hardships they had to overcome.
Amara talked about being bullied when he first arrived and how he had to stand up and push through the intimidation to accomplish his goals.
Isatu’s voice was shaky when she talked about being called an “N-word” on the playground and how it affected her. As she continued, one could see her strength of character, choosing not to retaliate to the words that hurt her so deeply but instead trying to understand why someone would hurl such painful and poignant language.
The two stressed how the challenges they have faced have made them stronger.
“The one thing that has motivated me the most is my past. I think about where I came from and the obstacles I have overcome to be where I am today and tell myself if I can live through what I have lived through then nothing is impossible,” said Isatu.