2019 Junior Builders Cup Recipients

From left, Caley Williams of North Moore High; Emma Saunders of Union Pines High; Jenna Burns of The O'Neal School; and Danielle Richmond of Pinecrest High School.

Their academic credentials might have secured them all admission to top-tier universities this fall, but four high school seniors on Wednesday received top honors from the Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills based on qualities that aren’t listed on their college transcripts.

This year’s $2,500 Junior Builders Cup Scholarship went to Jenna Burns, a senior at The O’Neal School, in a reception at the Country Club of North Carolina. The three other nominees — Danielle Richmond from Pinecrest, Emma Saunders from Union Pines, and Caley Williams from North Moore High — each received $1,500 scholarships.

“They are leaders who have stood before their peers and seized victories and championships, they are self-motivated yet selfless givers,” said John Nagy, master of ceremonies at Wednesday’s reception. “They pull up others, but are unafraid of pushing back when challenged … Their future plans are directed toward service, toward science, and toward the betterment of the humanities that enrich all of our lives.”

Jenna, who has twice competed at the English-Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition at Lincoln Center in New York, will further her theatrical aspirations at Boston University.

Matthew Jacobs, head of O’Neal’s upper school, described her as a student of “tremendous character and integrity” who “demands not only that we do things from the correct moral perspective, but that we do things well.”

That explains the conscientious approach to challenging roles that earned her the Outstanding Achievement in Acting award at the 2017 N.C. Theater Conference regional high school play festival. In O’Neal’s production of the contemporary play “Wit,” Burns’ portrayal of an emotionally isolated professor undergoing cancer treatment brought her math teacher Jennifer Isaacs to tears.

“It was my first big leading role and I really had to do a lot of research on it and make sure I was telling the story appropriately,” Burns said of the role. “It was one thing I really wanted to do justice.”

Isaacs described Burns as a student who is as willing to engage with abstract mathematical concepts as she is to delve into a new role on stage. Last summer, she took precalculus independently in an effort to catch up with students on track toward advanced math study — while also attending a theater course at Carnegie Mellon University.

“What draws me to theater is not the love of the applause, but the love of storytelling,” Burns wrote in her application for the Kiwanis scholarship. “Through the medium of theater, I found my own personal way of telling stories.”

If you ask Pinecrest art teacher Christine Wilson, she’ll tell you that Danielle Richmond exudes “kindness, empathy, and intrinsic motivation.”

If you ask Richmond, a member of the varsity women’s soccer team contesting the state 4A championship game this weekend for the first time in Pinecrest history, she’ll tell you she’s most proud of something else.

Two years ago, she started a “Cleat Closet” at AC Sandhills to provide quality soccer shoes to all of the club’s athletes — whether they can afford them or not.

“Soccer has been such a huge part of my life, I wanted to make it possible for anyone who wanted to do it,” Richmond said.

“I’ve always felt that if I have myself taken care of and if I have a roof over my head and food and my education under control, if I have the extra time I should do something with it to help others and make an impact on their lives.”

This fall, Richmond will enroll at the University of North Carolina to study neuroscience and psychology. At this point, she has no particular medical ambitions beyond understanding what makes people tick.

“In order to help people, I need first to understand people,” she wrote in her Junior Builders’ Cup application. “Humans are the most fascinating beings on the planet. We all share the same biological makeup and brain structure, yet we are all so different.”

In a search for purpose that Union Pines Principal Andy McCormick attributes to her “internal motivation and drive to succeed,” Emma Saunders’ faith has led her to a conclusion.

“I have found that I am here to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children and families,” she wrote in her application.

As a student in Baylor University’s prestigious University Scholars program, Saunders will devise her own academic path on her way to qualifying for medical school and ultimately becoming an effective medical missionary.

“Since I was little I have known that I wanted to do something medical,” Saunders said.

She credits her specific interest in neonatology to reality television, and her zest for travel in the developing world to her family. Once she’s earned her medical degree, Saunders hopes to return to southeast Asia or the Caribbean to care for children who wouldn’t otherwise have access to care.

“I’m going to try to take global studies and a lot of different classes that can give me a well-rounded view of the world,” she said.

Caley Williams has similar plans for her future, although she’s technically already a year or two ahead in her path to achieving them.

Though she won’t officially graduate from high school for another two weeks, Williams has taken enough courses at Sandhills Community College — while still captaining North Moore’s cross country and track and field teams — to earn an associate’s degree.

When she starts college this fall at the University of North Carolina, she plans to study biology and neuroscience on her way to medical school. In her application for the Kiwanis Club’s scholarship, Williams said that her goal is to serve abroad as a pediatrician.

Ashley Roberts, an English teacher at North Moore, has no doubt that Williams will do all of that and more as an “actively engaged and naturally curious” learner who is also “incredibly disciplined.”

“She recognizes the privileges she has and works hard to use them to benefit not only herself, but others less fortunate,” Roberts wrote.

This is the 59th year that the Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills has honored Moore County’s outstanding graduating seniors with the Junior Builders Cup.

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