Eleven students earned the Nebraska Congressional Award Sept. 18 at the Welcome Center at Bellevue Public Schools. Front from left, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Vivian Park, Gabrielle Jocson, Mary Aumen, Melissa Irish, Mary Matya, Ambrose Terneus and Congressman Don Bacon. Back from left, Celeste Kenworthy, Aurora Kenworthy, Pranav Rajan, Amanda Kost and Bellevue Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Rippe. Not pictured: Lauren Jurek.

Eleven students were awarded Congressional Awards during the Nebraska Medal Ceremony Sept. 18 at the Bellevue Public Schools Welcome Center.

The Congressional Award Program was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. The award challenges students ages 14 to 23 to set goals in four areas: volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration activities.

The goals have to be met in certain time limits depending on the medal or certificate: silver medals, for example, need to complete 200 hours of volunteering, 100 hours of personal development, 100 hours of physical fitness and a two-night expedition.

The participants must have an adult adviser to help keep track of and validate their goals. Once the participants complete their goals and send in their paperwork, the adviser determines if they have earned the award.

Following that, the adviser sends the paperwork to Washington D.C. to confirm the participant has earned the award.

The candidates were also given the opportunity to hear speeches from Nebraska congressmen Jeff Fortenberry and Don Bacon.

Julie Sorensen, a teacher at Bellevue West High School and Congressional Award coordinator, started the program at West in 2005.

Offutt Air Force had began giving out the awards in 2002.

“What I love about this program is it’s a program that you earn, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are, what your ability level is,” she said.

Fortenberry said the awards presented in Nebraska showcase the “strong future leaders” in America.

“Bellevue does a really good job because of the coordination of the school system and the base of promoting the program,” he said. “I think we’ve got an opportunity to spread the program far and wide through Nebraska.”

Gabrielle Jocson, a junior at West who earned the bronze certificate, said she was grateful earning the award after her hard work paid off.

“With the acceptance of my certificate, I was grateful that my adviser and family had helped me to achieve this goal I had set for myself,” Jocson said.

Jocson said she’s aiming to set more goals for herself to not only earn the gold medal, but to better herself as a well-rounded individual.

“Overall, I was glad I pushed myself to the limit to achieve this goal I had set in mind,” she said.

Sorensen, who advises eight of the 11 honorees, said handing out Congressional Awards is the most rewarding thing she does as an educator.

“It makes being a mentor so worth it to see the kids mature, develop leadership skills and become wonderful citizens,” Sorensen said.

Below are the students awarded at the Nebraska Medal Ceremony:

Mary Aumen, a junior at Mother of Divine Grace School in Ojai, Cali; Melissa Irish, freshman at Iowa State University; Lauren Jurek, freshman at Bellevue University; Mary Matya, junior at Gretna High School; Ambrose Terneus, junior Mother of Divine Grace School; Celeste Kenworthy, sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Amanda Kost, freshman at Metropolitan Community College; Pranav Rajan, junior at Lincoln East High School; Gabrielle Jocson, junior at Bellevue West High School; Aurora Kenworthy, senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Vivian Park, junior at Bellevue West.

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