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Club finds reason for optimism
Scholarship recipients show character, poise
Optimist WEB
Recent high school graduates attended a Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club meeting, where each received $1,000 scholarship recognizing their achievements. - photo by Jennifer Sami

School may be out for summer, but that didn’t stop nine teenagers from waking up early Thursday morning.

The recent high school graduates attended a Forsyth-Cumming Optimist Club meeting, where each received $1,000 scholarship recognizing their achievements.

“That’s a lot of money coming from a little club,” said Gary Beard, club president. “But we have big hearts and we’re Optimists.”

All of the county’s five public high schools were represented. Kathy Wigley, guidance counselor at North Forsyth, introduced her school’s two recipients, Tosha M. Brown and Ruth M. Landino.

She described Brown, who plans to study education at Kennesaw State University, as having “strong convictions.”

“But she goes about it just quietly, politely doing what she believes is right,” Wigley said.

Landino is set to attend Gainesville State University, where she will be working toward a degree in nursing.

In her essay, Landino, a Mexican-American, wrote she will be the first person in her family to attend college. Doing so, will “prove and show gratitude to my family in bringing me to this country.”

“Whatever it is they could not be, I can demonstrate that their eldest child can and will achieve it,” she wrote.

Forsyth Central’s Conner M. Geraghty was introduced to Optimists by Charles McGahee, who has known Geraghty through performing together at the Sounds of Sawnee concert band.

A saxophone player, Geraghty helped pack and unload the band’s percussion session. McGahee said he was “proud to have a part in introducing” the recent graduate, who plans to major in IT and business at Georgia Southern University.

Also planning to attend Georgia Southern is Central graduate Annie G. Matlack. She was presented with her scholarship by Mike Ridzon, owner of the Chick-fil-A, where she’s employed.

“You can do all the studying — that’s part of it. But you have to go out there and make it happen,” Ridzon said. “And Annie is one of those individuals that makes it happen and she does it consistently.”

Central had three recipients this year, with the third being Mackenzie A. Lowe. She was introduced by Joanne Roesner, medical director at Loving Hands Animal Clinic.

Since she was 9 years old, Lowe has volunteered at the clinic, working toward her goal of becoming a veterinarian.

“You all could not have found a more deserving recipient,” Roesner said. “We are very proud to support and mentor her.”

West Forsyth had two scholarship recipients, Christina J. Littleton, who was not present, and Elizabeth Earls.

In addition to planning on studying international business, Earls has worked abroad, first visiting Africa, and then starting LovethruShoes, a nonprofit that ships footwear to impoverished families.

Stephanie Shackelford, organizational director with student development and internship program Element3sixty, said she was impressed with what she’s seen from Earls.

“I look forward to seeing what she does in the future,” Shackelford said.

David C. Bishop and Pengfei Xiao were South Forsyth’s honorees. Counselor Sharon McWhorter said both students are leaders at the school.

“They are leaders in academics, they are leaders in extracurricular activities, but more than anything else, they rank above their peers in terms of moral character,” she said.

Xiao, who plans to study engineering at North Georgia College & State University, is also joining the National Guard.

Bishop, who helps coach a special needs cheerleading team, will attend the University of Georgia and study physical therapy.

Lambert High had one recipient, Eric P. Malaney, who also plans to attend the University of Georgia. He wants to become a psychiatrist.

In his application, Malaney’s counselor, Luisa Suarez, wrote that he is mature and intelligent.

It read: “His motivation to accomplish all of his goals is admirable. This is enhanced by his intellectual curiosity, his motivation and his hardworking nature. These qualities are rare, but even more so in a young man that also demonstrates the highest caliber of integrity.”

In the three years since the Optimist Club started offering scholarships, 23 students have been honored, with the number increasing annually. Ten were awarded this year.

Beard said he hopes the scholarships, funded through the club’s Avenue of Flags program, can continue to grow.

“Just to have these young people here today with their parents and supporting adults really encourages us as Optimists,” Beard said.

“We’re getting a great understanding of our future and the future of this community if we have these types of leaders with us.”