Tyler Claxton was born to be a leader in horticulture.
His father is an agriculture teacher, and Claxton began identifying trees in the fifth grade. After winning several Future Farmers of America awards, Claxton picked up another honor Tuesday. The Perry High School student was one of 11 high school seniors across Middle Georgia who won Golden Eagle awards.
I was really nervous, Claxton said about hearing his name called. My heart was beating really fast.
The 36th annual awards ceremony, which is sponsored by The Telegraph, honored 163 nominees in 11 categories, which ranged from art to technology. The 11 students who received honorable mentions each took home $300, and the 11 winners each received $1,000.
Judges conducted interviews and reviewed accomplishments to determine the most successful student in each category. One by one, nominees took the stage, white roses in hand, to introduce themselves.
Lindsey OQuinn, who won the art award, discovered her love for color and design in the fifth grade. Now an advanced art student at First Presbyterian Day School, her artwork hangs in The Medical Center of Central Georgia in an effort to cheer up patients. She plans to pursue a career in interior architecture.
I was very excited, my heart was racing, she said. I really had no idea I was going to win.
Christine Okaro was flabbergasted when her name was called as winner of the journalism award. The Central High School student got her first taste of journalism in the fourth grade, when she was anchor of her schools morning program. Now, she is editor of her high schools newspaper.
I wanted to be part of that, to spread news to others, she said.
Her goals are two-fold: She plans to pursue a career as a pediatric doctor, but she also wants to earn a degree in developmental economics. She wants to travel and explore the problem of poverty throughout the world, she said.
When it comes to goals, Brig. Gen. Merle D. Hart wants students to know the difference between goals and dreams. As the ceremonys guest speaker, Hart encouraged students to develop and pursue their goals, which differ from dreams because they have a plan of action, he said.
Youve got to have desire burning in your heart, said Hart, of Robins Air Force Base. Youve got to stick to it.
He told students to surround themselves with positive people, make thoughtful decisions and, in all situations, dress appropriately.
If you look like a dirt ball, you probably act like a dirt ball, he said to laughter.
He also encouraged students to not give up when they fail, using the example of Thomas Edison, who made several attempts before perfecting his most famous inventions.
Claxton said he was inspired by Harts comments, particularly the message of not giving up after a loss. He was thinking about that advice when announcers called the winners names, he said.
Its advice Claxton says he plans to apply to his own life as he pursues a degree in oceanography. He has always been fascinated by ocean life, and he wants to find better ways to preserve it.
You just want to do something to help fix it, he said.
The 11 Golden Eagle winners are: Lindsey OQuinn, art, First Presbyterian Day School; Kristin Fillingim, citizenship, First Presbyterian Day School; Zachary Hadaway, drama, Mary Persons High School; Juliette Grantham, English/literature, Bleckley County High School; Ashley Washington, foreign language, Central High School; Tyler Claxton, industrial/vocation, Perry High School; Christine Okaro, journalism, Central High School; Jihwan Oh, math, Central High School; Shruti Gupta, science, Stratford Academy; Alex Newberry, technology, First Presbyterian Day School; and Justin Harris, music, Houston County High School.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.