'We know the future is in good hands'
MEDFORD — It was a night to celebrate excellence, specifically the excellence of 34 astounding area teens.
In a festive dinner at Braddock's Tavern on Main Street, the winners of the 13th annual Teen Excellence program were honored for their diverse talents and their contributions to the community.
Major sponsors of the program, launched in 1995 by the Burlington County Times, include Commerce Bank, Burlington County College, Braddock's Tavern, and this year the YMCA of Burlington County.
“This night reminds us that the vast majority of teens are doing great work,” said Stanley Ellis, publisher of the Burlington County Times and the emcee. “We know the future is in good hands.”
Among those being honored were student government leaders, musicians, artists, young scientists and selfless volunteers.
For example, Sanjay Bhatt, a senior at Moorestown Friends School, has volunteered at orphanages for neediest children in India and also presides over the model United Nations Club at Friends. He is student council president and a National Merit Commended Scholar who is heading for Brown University.
But like many of the other honorees, Sanjay worries about a future that sometimes seems ominous. “I think a lot about world violence and our inability to solve large-scale problems through diplomacy. I hope my generation does better,” said the young man who is looking to a career in finance and economics.
For Andrew Massarro, a future in science, probably in medicine, is in the master plan. Massarro is class valedictorian at Shawnee, attended the Governor's School of the Sciences program last summer, and is a member of an organization that helps families dealing with Down syndrome.
Massarro, who will be on a full-tuition science honor scholarship at the University of Richmond, already feels the pressure of time moving too fast. “High school went by in a flash, and I guess college will, too,” said the future veterinarian.
Also graduating from Shawnee High School is Lauren Zarillo, who hopes to become an elementary school teacher after the College of New Jersey. A proponent of old-fashioned family values and a sense of caring, Zarillo is a volunteer for children and spent a part of a recent summer working with her family in a Chinese orphanage.
Addressing the students, parents, teachers and other guests was keynote speaker Darlene Heller, a 1998 graduate of Willingboro High School who has gone on to become a New York-based poet, actress, writer and advocate for the disenfranchised.
Her message: Try to do what makes you happy in your life's work, trust your instincts, and know that while the road may be bumpy, success is within reach of those who strive for it.
Judges for Teen Excellence were Richard J. Pokrass, dean of institutional advancement at Burlington County College, Barbara Wallace, a retired educator who serves as state director of the Office of Constituent Relations for Gov. Jon S. Corzine, and John Worley, CEO of the YMCA of Burlington County.