Written by EFSC President Jennifer Vigne for SRQMagazine’s SRQ Daily Saturday Perspectives

My husband and I visited The Ringling Museum of Art to preview its newest temporary art exhibit, Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I was fascinated as I walked through the gallery learning about the various pieces, many of them ornate vessels that exemplify the creativity of its designers, the technological advances of that time period (5th Century BCE), and the enduring strength of the bronze metal itself. As I immersed myself in learning as much as I could about Chinese ritual bronzes, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the 20 students we recently recognized at the Most Improved Student Luncheon.

The Most Improved Student awards program was established by Jack and B.J. Hunkele in 1998 to celebrate the achievements of students often unrecognized. Hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County in partnership with Sarasota County Schools and Northern Trust, the annual event recognizes students who have made significant turnarounds in their lives, demonstrated community involvement, shown potential for service as role models to others, remained drug-free and are on the pathway to pursue a post-secondary education.

Educational attainment is much more than academic achievement alone and hearing the compelling stories and personal journeys of each of these 20 students validated that the pathway each student takes is as individual as the child. These students are uniquely and wonderfully made and they demonstrated the enduring strength to persevere through serious illness, a parent’s death, loss of home, language barriers, personal disabilities, family tragedies and much more. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, states “when you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them.” Sasha, Madeline, Harrison, Brian, Briana, Joey, Corey, Maria, Courtney, Markus, Jacob, Kevin, James, Josh, Stephanie, Rosemon, Dimeonanna, Jorge, Tyler and Sheila committed themselves to such a search and in doing so not only inspired the attendees but also affirmed that they, too, are ornate vessels—precious, valuable pieces of art built with the enduring strength to stand the test of time.

As one student commented, “I may have a sad chapter but I’m not a sad story.” Indeed, each of these students has a compelling story of achievement and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County is honored to recognize them for unlocking their potential. As Angela Duckworth reminds us, “our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”