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posted: 12/23/2012 5:00 AM

Leadership Team, people behind it, simply inspiring

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How about some words on a topic that might be inspirational as we close in on the Christmas holiday?

For more than a decade, the Daily Herald has formally honored our high school students for their leadership abilities. On Friday, we paid tribute to 138 teens in our circulation area, including 10 overall winners in each of our Neighbor sections in Northwest Cook, DuPage and Lake counties and the Fox Valley area.

The selection process is fairly arduous. It starts in the summer with Renee Trappe, our assistant managing editor for local news. She contacts 88 high schools, explaining the nomination process for our Leadership Team. A key distinction, Renee says, is that we're looking for students who haven't just volunteered their time but have done so in leadership roles. Each school is permitted two nominations, and we also ask the counselors, teachers and principals who make them if they'd be willing to serve as judges. About half of them do, so we have a nice pool from which to choose. To keep the process as objective as possible, we have judges from Cook evaluate students from DuPage and vice versa. We also flip-flop the judging between Fox Valley and Lake County.

The evaluation and judging process is extensive, too. Again, to preserve anonymity and objectivity, the judges see only the first names and not the school name of the students they're choosing. They're asked to give a score of 1 to 20 in eight categories, such as leadership, scholarship and the type, amount and length of the volunteer work. Judges send their results to Renee, who does the math and picks the top 10 for each zone. But all of the nominees are given recognition, as a lot of thought clearly has gone into the process of singling out just one or two students from a high school of maybe thousands of students. "That's why all of these kids are winners; they're in select company," Renee says.

Indeed, they are. Noteworthy among this year's honorees is how some of them turned tragedy into triumph. For instance, the younger brother of Allison Tran of Vernon Hills High School was killed when a heavy soccer goal fell on him. Allison was a key cog in a family memorial fund set up to provide educational, athletic and artistic opportunities to less-fortunate kids. She and her family successfully lobbied for legislation in Illinois and Wisconsin requiring all movable soccer goals to be anchored. Oh, and by the way, Allison also was vice president of her class, organized a week's worth of fundraisers, volunteered at a mission trip to Pittsburgh and worked at a vacation Bible school.

Then there's Kelsey McDonnell of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville. She organized, directed and performed in two benefit concerts, including one that raised more than $36,000 for the American Brain Tumor Association and the Northwestern Memorial Foundation. During that time, her mother was gravely ill, and died only three weeks after one of the shows.

There's only one word for our Leadership Team members, the school leaders who provide immeasurable support, and Renee and other editors here who present these future leaders to you: inspiring.

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