Clovis News

Clovis Unified students honored as Exchange Club Youths of the Year

The local chapter of the Exchange Club honored 10 Clovis Unified graduating seniors with the Youth of the Year award. From left are Max Bessard, Kiani Hildebrandt, Sammy Linkowski, Neha Pondicherry, Giavanna Larez, Cole Heimerdinger, Gage Marquez, Kayla Hill and Si Jie “Sophia” Ma.
The local chapter of the Exchange Club honored 10 Clovis Unified graduating seniors with the Youth of the Year award. From left are Max Bessard, Kiani Hildebrandt, Sammy Linkowski, Neha Pondicherry, Giavanna Larez, Cole Heimerdinger, Gage Marquez, Kayla Hill and Si Jie “Sophia” Ma.

Ten exemplary Clovis Unified School District graduating seniors were honored for their high school achievements and awarded scholarships at the Exchange Club of Clovis’ 2016 Youth of the Year Scholarship Program Tuesday evening at Clovis East High School.

The 10 students honored with the Youth of the Year award were chosen from a pool of 30 finalists — the 2015-16 Students of the Month from each of the five Clovis high schools.

The Student of the Month and Youth of the Year programs are coordinated by the local chapter of the Exchange Club, a service organization dedicated to giving back to the Clovis community.

The students are nominated by their high school counselors based on their achievements, commitments and contributions to their schools and communities through leadership and involvement over the past four years.

From the time they walked through their high schools’ doors four years ago to this June when they’ll be handed their diplomas, these students have made an enormous impact on their campuses and in their communities, all while excelling academically and in their extracurricular areas of interest.

They not only take multiple Advanced Placement level courses every year and hold GPAs far above 4.0, but also serve as officers in school leadership, debate on mock trial teams, earn athletic accolades and thrive onstage in the theater, among other talents.

The two students from each school who were honored as Boy/Girl Youth of the Year Award are: Gage Marquez and Giavanna Larez from Clovis East High School, Sammy Linkowski and Neha Pondicherry from Clovis North High School, Cole Heimerdinger and Si Jie “Sophia” Ma from Buchanan High School, Imran Khan and Kayla Hill from Clovis High School, and Max Bessard and Kiani Hildebrant from Clovis West High School.

A ceremony was held last week to honor the students with their families and high school counselors present.

Rick Snow, who has been the Exchange Club’s Youth of the Year Program for 12 years, said he is continually blown away by the students’ achievements academically and in their communities.

“This program — it’s not us, it’s them,” Snow said. “It’s the students, schools, faculty, those counselors pointing them in the right direction, the parents, that’s what makes these kids so great.”

Each of the Youths of the Year were presented with a $300 cash stipend to be used for college expenses from the Exchange Club of Clovis, and all 10 of them will now advance to the district level to compete for $1,500 scholarships.

Last year, Clovis West graduate Shahana Farooqi was named female Youth of the Year for the California-Nevada district.

Nominees who advance beyond the district level will be in the running for a $10,000 scholarship and the title of National Boy/Girl Youth of the Year.

The students expressed their feelings of honor for earning the Youth of the Year award, especially out of a pool of so many other high-achieving students, and their gratitude for the scholarships they received.

“It means a lot to receive this award,” said Gage Marquez, Clovis East’s Boy Youth of the Year. “I’m so glad that someone’s out there watching me and thinks that I can go far in life. It motivates me to continue doing what I do.”

Neda Pandacherry was awarded Clovis North’s Girl Youth of the Year. “It’s an honor to be recognized like this,” she said. “We’ve worked hard, Clovis North is insanely competitive and everyone there is so top-notch, it’s just been such an honor to be recognized in this way.”

Samuel Linkowski, Clovis North’s Boy Youth of the Year, mirrored Neda’s thoughts on the competitiveness of their school and how great it feels to have won this award. “I think it’s kind of confirmation of all of our hard work and dedication over these past four years, especially in the very pressure cooker environment that our high school is.”

The students being honored were given certificates onstage and were asked to answer a couple of questions: “Who do you attribute your ambition and success to?” And, “Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years?”

Many students said they owe their success to their parents, siblings, counselors, and grandparents, and they all have big plans for their futures. They will start college this fall at universities all across the U.S. and plan on becoming doctors, teachers, innovators, and leaders.

“We’re in pretty good hands with these kids,” Snow said. “They have fantastic ideas.”

The Clovis Exchange Club honored these 30 students of the month over the past school year:

Clovis East: Abigail Broughton, Dillon Chongtoua, Giavanna Larez, Gage Marquez, Isabella Naranjo, Ethan Stokes

Clovis North: Justin Lagera, Sammy Linkowski, Alyson Peurose, Neha Pondicherry, Gobind Puniani, Jena Srikanth

Buchanan: Gianna Console, Amanda Hamilton, Tanner Hedrick, Cole Heimerdinger, Si Jie (Sophia) Ma, Alex Yip

Clovis High: Cassidy Crouch, Jared Hill, Kayla Hill, Imran Khan, Soly Lee, Teagan Pope

Clovis West: Max Bessard, Diana Grigorian, Connor Harris, Kiani Hildebrant, Emma Hill, Jacob Rush