The Rotary Club of Forsyth County presents one student from each high school every year with a Challenge Scholarship Award.
In addition to excelling in school, these high school seniors were selected for the scholarship because they’ve overcome adversity, from physical ailments to difficult home lives.
The students will each receive $2,500 to help toward their college expenses, said Shan Mize, club president.
Mize said the scholarship started to address an unmet need.
While students typically receive scholarships for academics, he said the club "felt that our money would be better served by giving it to the students who may not have had the best grades, but who may have overcome some type of obstacle during their time in school.”
“We felt it’s the better way to distribute scholarship funds to students who otherwise might not have the means,” he said.
Ashleigh Budke, Central
When she first learned she won the scholarship, Ashleigh Budke was "just really excited and I was overcome with emotions.”
“It just made me feel special ... and I felt really thankful,” she said.
Budke said she’s overcome physical obstacles to get where she is, but “I don’t let it affect me.”
The senior plans to head to Middle Tennessee State University, where she hopes to major in audio production.
“She is a very determined and creative person and she’s got a wonderful sense of humor,” said Evelyn Peterson, the counselor who nominated Budke for the award. “She could have given up at any time and done nothing.”
But Budke chose to pursue her passion for music, which she credited to her parents. They encouraged her to listen to different genres, from Shania Twain to ZZ Top.
“It’s always been a part of my life,” she said of music. “Even if I’m not a record producer, I want to help produce records.”
Casey Ohman, Lambert
Casey Ohman never asked for help, said Lambert counselor Jamie Dicarro.
“She does not want anyone to know that there’s anything in her life she’s had to overcome,” Dicarro said. “She misses a lot of school due to personal things, but she’s managed to keep up and excel at all the things she does.”
Ohman’s been captain of the varsity volleyball team and has managed to maintain an "A" average, despite having what she described as “a medical condition that I’ve struggled with through high school."
Fortunately, schoolwork comes easy to Ohman.
“It’s always been really important to me and the way I was raised. I’ve always been pretty good at it. I didn’t feel like I needed to stop when things got tougher,” she said. “My family has been really supportive and my faith has helped me too.”
Ohman plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in marketing, which she became interested in after joining the school’s DECA program. She knew it was what she wanted to do as a career.
“She has a really bright future,” Dicarro said. “She goes through life with the most positive attitude and she’s the most joyful kid to be around.
Ruth Navarette, South
When she came to Forsyth County seven years ago, Ruth Navarette and her family spoke little English.
Learning a new language was an obstacle, she said, but the greatest challenge was doing so while maintaining good grades with few resources.
“We don’t make a lot of money,” she said of her family. “I didn’t have a computer and some of those things I needed.
“It was hard to basically try to be involved in classes and just to do my work or the assignments I had to do, without Internet access or books and everything I needed to accomplish those tasks.”
But the determined Navarette didn’t give up, and with her grades, is on track to become the first in her family to have a college education.
“She has pretty much had to educate herself,” said Luisa Suarez, the school counselor who nominated Navarette. “Her parents do not speak the language, they’re not aware of the education system here and she’s just kind of pushed herself along, hoping for the best but never reall believing she would get anywhere.”
With her 4.1 grade-point average, Navarette has been accepted to Georgia State College & University.
She’s undecided on her career goals, but plans to pursue nursing or another health care occupation.
Jessica Rovneyko, North
Receiving her high school diploma next month will be a bittersweet moment for Jessica Rovneyko.
The senior, whose mother lost her struggle with brain cancer earlier this year, said to "not see your mom see you graduate is the worst thing that could have happened.”
Her mother was diagnosed at the end of Rovneyko’s junior year and since then, she’s balanced school work with “taking my mom to Emory every week. We were in the hospital constantly.”
Rovneyko has since made her focus “trying to make her proud of me.”
Rovneyko was nominated for the scholarship by North counselor Lee Grimes, who said she’s seen few students show “that kind of perseverance in the face of adversity along with the academic excellence that Jessica is able to maintain.”
“Jessica is motivated by her own aspirations for accomplishment and to help other people reach their dreams of accomplishment,” Grimes said. “She has the unique combination of being both patient and driven.”
Rovneyko, who volunteers with elementary age children, said she plans to study early childhood education at the University of West Georgia.
“My mom showed me I was at teaching children and I had a passion for it,” she said. “It just stuck with me and I grew to love it more. Making a difference in other people’s lives, it just felt great.”
Jennifer Lempesis, West
When Jennifer Lempesis began high school, guidance counselor Maureen Wareham wasn’t sure she would see much more of the student.
“I never thought she’d ever finish high school,” Wareham said. “She was a candidate that looked like the typical dropout ... but that kid, in four years, has just overcome everything.”
Lempesis has had a difficult family life and “grew up seeing a lot of things and I watched people I cared about spiral downward.”
“I said I can’t be here, in this same situation, I have to get out of this," she said. "And I decided I wasn’t going to be this way.”
Lempesis said when she first started at West, she didn’t want to be around other people.
“Despite the fact that bad things have continued to happen, in the four years I’ve been here, I’ve had so many friends and I have so much more than I’ve ever had just because of those people,” she said.
“I became something more than what I might have been.”
Wareham said she was impressed with Lempesis’ writing, which was initially very dark. Today, however, she "writes with conviction and she’ll stand behind what she says.”
“She writes beautifully,” Wareham said.
Lempesis plans to attend Brenau University to major in mass communications and minor in philosophy.