New Hope High School senior Grace Massey was named as recipient of the 2021 Youth of the Year award by the Columbus Exchange Club on May 6.
“I didn’t know much about the award,” she said. “It was a pleasant surprise for me and I was honored.”
According to club member Ann Marie Langford, the award is a long-time tradition.
“We send applications out to all the schools (in our service area),” she said. “The counselors evaluate students to receive an application.”
Applicants must submit two essays. One essay is a description of the applicant’s greatest accomplishment, while the other is a discussion of the Exchange Club’s theme for that year. A committee of Exchange Club members then sits down to review all of the submitted applications. Additional criteria also come into play, says Langford.
“We have a point tally based on hours of volunteer service rendered by the applicant as well as extracurricular activities the student has participated in such as sports or music,” she said.
Massey wrote about her greatest accomplishment in receiving the Top Hat Trojan Award at school.
“I was voted the winner by the teachers from a pool of 200 candidates,” she said.
The award is based on academic standing as well as involvement in extracurricular activities. Massey graduated from New Hope with a 4.0 grade average and was involved in several groups and clubs, including the show choir, varsity cheerleading squad, Spanish Honor Society, Beta Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the student council.
She will be attending Mississippi State University in the fall to pursue a major in special education.
Massey said she wrote from her heart about her aspirations of pursuing a career as a teacher for special needs students.
“I have an older brother who has Downs Syndrome,” she said. “He doesn’t have the best communication skills, so some days are more difficult than others. You have to learn alternate forms of communication.”
Massey’s and her brother’s time at New Hope High School overlapped by two years.
“I was grateful for the special programs that the school offered, and was sorry to see them set aside during the COVID pandemic,” she said. “I was glad to be able to be there for my brother.”
Massey received a scholarship of $250 from the Exchange Club and is also in the running for a state-wide award of $15,000.
She wrote her second essay about the Exchange Club’s annual theme which centered on an individual’s role in shaping America’s future.
“I discussed the view from the grassroots level,” she said. “We have to be willing to take small steps at a time. Small steps lead to bigger things.”
Per the club’s Facebook page, their motto is “Unity for service.” Exchange Club is a group of men and women working together to make communities better places to live through projects of service in Americanism, Community Service, Youth Activities and Prevention of Child Abuse.
Massey credits her upbringing in a faith-based family as well as growing up with a sibling with special needs to equip her with what it will take to make a difference in the lives of others.