Oak Bay celebrates its Young Exceptional Stars with outdoor award ceremony

Under sunny skies and provincial health protocols, nine students earned accolades during Oak Bay’s 14th annual Young Exceptional Star Awards held outdoors June 3. Here are the YES Award winners for 2021:

Liam Murtagh

Grade 8, St. Michaels University School

Teacher Shannon Williams nominated Liam Murtagh for a Young Exceptional Star Award in the category of service and citizenship. Liam is one of her Grade 8 students that she has known for almost a year.

A couple of years ago, Liam’s family was involved in refugee sponsorship and since that time, he has been active in helping people get adjusted and have success in our community. This year, he had the idea to blend his love of technology and his desire to help out. He liaised with the school tech team to be able to access the old computers that were ready for the recycle bin. He then worked with Williams to create an initiative to raise money to upgrade the technology. He presented his idea to the community and receive donations of almost $700 in his Coins for Computers drive.

Then, he worked with the tech team again to purchase supplies for upgrading. Once the materials arrived, he almost single-handedly upgraded and added wifi to 60 computers, most of which he donated to the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria. This is a group that works with refugees to help them learn English, find employment and have success in our community. Even though this work took over a month for him to complete, when asked if we could help, he always said: “No, I’m fine. I enjoy this. I don’t need anything.”

His teacher thinks Liam deserves this award because he demonstrates and lives the idea of service. He saw a need, knew he could help and made it happen – all without any need for recognition. He teaches us that it’s not about the reward we receive, but it’s about the help we can give to others in need; that if we all work together to help out, we can make a difference.

Beatrice (Bee) Morrison

Grade 10, Oak Bay High School

According to her teacher Steve Price, Bee has become that person in the Performing Arts Department at Oak Bay High school who assists all of her teachers on a daily basis. Bee is a ‘rock star’. She quietly does – in countless ways – so much.

Bee is a member of the musical theatre stage management team, she works with senior students in her position as assistant stage manager. She is always the first person to rehearsal. She immediately goes to work setting up production tables, moving props and set pieces onto the stage, all while looking after student attendance. She continually looks ahead, determining what will be needed on stage as the rehearsal progresses. Bee is always on the go determining what she can do to assist both the students and the teachers to make the learning process run smoothly and efficiently. At the end of rehearsals, Bee is always there leading the way in the cleanup process. Here again, this young woman goes about her business in a very quiet and unassuming way. She is consistently the last to leave and always does an excellent job.

In the theatre and in the performing arts classrooms, Bee takes the lead in setting up equipment and dealing with technical requirements. Despite her young age, she has proven herself highly competent in all of the technical aspects of the theatre. She is quite a proficient young lighting designer. Bee is also looking forward to learning more about sound production and its relationship to the various disciplines they have at Oak Bay High. She is learning how to identify her lack of knowledge with certain technical ideas and she is learning to ask the right questions at the right time and to the right person. When COVID-19 passes, and theatres are again open, Price says he looks forward to employing Bee in the position as student theatre tech for the many public rentals that take place in the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre. That is high praise indeed and really shows how much he appreciates her work ethic and skill level.

Price also says that it is seldom that he has come across a student with the drive and the commitment to service as he sees in Bee. She is held in very high esteem by her peers and by her teachers alike.

Max Seiterle

Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

When teacher Janelle Traynor sent in her nomination for Max Seiterle, she wished to highlight and recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions he has made to his class and school community.

Traynor says that Max has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to making his community a better place. He is committed to helping others, inclusive, kind and compassionate. He goes out of his way to show his appreciation for others. He is the first to volunteer for various community service projects both in his class and the school community. He also demonstrates strong leadership qualities through his participation and initiative in the school’s Spirit Council. He communicates well to his peers and teachers and leads by example with enthusiasm and grace.

She also wanted to recognize Max for his contributions to various school fundraisers this year. For example, Max utilized his entrepreneurial skills and established a business, making and selling products for the fundraiser. All of the proceeds went towards fundraising efforts for new ping-pong tables, which are now being enjoyed by the school and community.

In addition to his community service and leadership, Max is recognized for his athletics. Although many teams and activities were cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Max participated in community soccer with Bays High Performance division and the Lower Vancouver Island School Sports competitions where he demonstrated a high level of athletic ability and sportsmanship. He was also one of the top runners in the Terry Fox Run this year.

Traynor also wanted to highlight Max’s work ethic and perseverance towards his academics. Max is diligent and does a great job advocating for himself. He is an incredibly hard worker and faces challenges with a positive attitude and a tenacious drive. Max is an outstanding group member and works hard to support his classmates. He takes his studies seriously and is motivated to do well.

Max has made a difference in his classroom, has exemplified the values and mission of his school, and has positively impacted the people of our community.

Eden Henderson

Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

It was with the utmost of respect and enthusiasm that teacher Daniel Mallet nominated Eden Henderson for an Oak Bay Young Exceptional Star Award. He is nominating her in two categories: athletics and community service.

When it comes to athletics, Eden is being nominated for her prowess on the basketball court. Humble by nature, Eden is a once in a lifetime talent whose skill, aptitude, and attitude will make any coach fight to have her on their team. When you meet Eden, and take time to get to know her, you instantly realize that her primary love is basketball, and that the pandemic hasn’t slowed her down one bit.

With the inability to be a part of a regular training program due to public health protocols, and a desire to better her game any way she possibly can, Eden has been practising on her own as well as taking lessons from a private coach. After spending six hours per day at school, Eden dedicates between 90 minutes and three hours nightly to training with her coach or on her own. She does fitness (which she admittedly despises), shooting and ball skills, in an effort to take her game to new heights.

Prior to COVID-19, Eden was a part of the Jr. Vikes program and was a star player on the basketball teams here at Monterey in grades 6 and 7. She will be a huge asset to the girls basketball program when she moves to Oak Bay High in Grade 9, and I look forward to following her career both during high school and after. That being said, Eden’s skills don’t stop on the basketball court. In fact, her work ethic and dedication carry over from the court to the classroom.

Despite her busy after-school schedule, Eden maintains an A average, and rarely misses an assignment deadline. She is motivated, driven, and eager to please. Eden is the type of student who will go out of her way to make sure that her classmates are successful, as she is willing to work alongside any student in the class; earning the respect of every member of Division 1.

Respectful in all of her interactions, Eden has garnered a level of respect and trust from her teachers that isn’t often achieved. And this respect has afforded Eden the opportunity to take on a leadership role during her final year at Monterey.

When it comes to community service, Eden has extended her passion for athletics into community service, as the student leader in charge of Monterey’s recess sports equipment. Through this role, Eden ensures that the sports equipment is organized and students have ready access to basketballs, soccer balls and other equipment, furthering healthy outdoor recreation amongst our youth.

Beckham Lazaro

Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

Lynn Shlakoff has nominated several students in the past for a YES Award and says that Beckham Lazaro was automatically in her mind as a student who also merits this honour. She says that when it comes to thinking of Beckham, one could be easily fooled into believing he was an athlete and categorize him only as such. However, she said that she would never nominate a student for being exceptional unless their character was also admirable and she knew early on when Beckham arrived in her advisory class in September that his kindness and character was outstanding. For that reason, she gave him the first Stormwatch award, a Monterey award given each month per class to someone of outstanding values. Being humble in nature, Beckham was taken by surprise.

Athleticism has been a key component of his life since a very early age and he embraced the sport of hockey when he was five. It has been a sport that he has remained passionate about. Today, after all those years of waking up tired, pushing his body to the limits, channeling his mental power to strategize during play, he has become a true leader. He practices five days a week on ice, then another three days off the ice. This is on top of school. He never complains and has a positive outlook that is inspiring for the rest of his class.

Beckham committed to finding his place at Monterey through sports. He joined the rugby team and in 2019 they took the city championships. He worked hard to make the Monterey basketball team in Grade 7. Despite it being his first year on the school team, his coach placed him as center. She recalls being struck by his determination and drive to learn as much as he could and to become the best he could be for his team.

Beckham is always the kid who can be relied on. He has a strong sense of self, a deep understanding of personal responsibility and can be counted on to do the right thing. He makes good choices for himself and decisions involving his peer group.

Beckham’s extra-curricular life keeps him busy, but he is extremely adept at being a time manager and is able to make his academics his priority. He is a strong, hardworking student, who knows when he needs to buckle down and find a space where he can get into the zone and focus. He sets goals and strives to achieve them. It would be easy to slide through Grade 8 by doing the minimum, and who would blame him with nine sports classes after school each week? Beckham does not do that. He cares. He is very coachable even in academics. He likes having confirmation that he is on the right track when working on major assignments. He admits vulnerability, knows his strengths and weaknesses, and is willing to make those adjustments that may be recommended.

If Shlakoff were to sum up Beckham in one sentence, she would say that he is an extremely positive, driven, athletic, kind student who modestly takes pride in himself, his school and his school responsibilities. He has had a successful three years at Monterey and has also made a huge difference to his school community.

Anna Kietzmann

Grade 7, Monterey Middle School

Ocean Studies teacher, Mark Brown recommended Anna Kietzmann for this year’s YES Awards in the categories of overcoming obstacles as well as academic achievement. He says that in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, routines, relationships and assumptions about health have been upended. He’s certainly complained. Yet he says, here is a student who has really had her share of challenges.

Anna had a great start to the school year. In September she was one of two dozen students who requested (with family support), and got into, the Grade 7 classroom with its marine studies theme. Anna had some successful paddling days in the sea kayaking program. And then she got sick with a cough; mysteriously sick and ended up being absent for a number of months. It wasn’t COVID; “they must have given her 10 COVID tests last year,” her parents related.

Then Anna unfortunately had an adverse reaction to the antibiotic prescribed for suspected pneumonia. This resulted in dangerous kidney problems that required her to spend time at BC Children’s Hospital on the mainland. Anna even had to return to hospital on Christmas Day. Brown asked her mother, “Wasn’t she stressed out and scared?” The reply: “It was hard … but Anna is calm and collected.”

As Anna was slowly weaned off strong medications and gradually convalesced in the second term at school in the New Year, her profound perseverance emerged. When she felt better, Anna asked for school work despite still being unable to come to school. She checked in regularly with her best friend, Katie, to find out what they were doing, then pursued the math topics independently at home, through Khan Academy. She read books. She sent in the assignments that were suggested through Google Classroom. In February, as soon as Anna regained her strength, she started coming to school for a few hours per day. By March she was back as part of our classroom community. Anna has been attending school full time since spring break.

Brown says he is impressed that there seems to be no gaps in her learning, despite her horrible health challenges this past year. Anna’s grades have not slipped and he is delighted at the high standard she brings all her academic assignments this term. Certainly Anna has overcome serious obstacles; despite this difficult and weird year it looks like Anna will conclude Grade 7 with super success.

That seems like all there is to say … but there’s more. Four years ago, when Anna was 8, her younger brother was diagnosed and treated for pediatric lymphoma. For a year, one of Anna’s parents “lived” at the B.C. Children’s Hospital full time. “Anna remembers it perfectly,” said her mother. “Anna had to grow up fast.”

There was a lot of fear, a lot uncertainty until definitively diagnosed, but Anna’s brother Tom has made a fantastic recovery. As has Anna during this, her 13th year. So what’s next? Anna looks forward to being a camp counsellor at Camp Good Times, run by the Canadian Cancer Society for children with cancer, in a medically supervised summer camp setting. What a wonderful way to give back.

Oliver Cosmescu

Grade 8, Monterey Middle School

Nominator Josh Elsdon has known Oliver Cosmescu for two years in his role as a coach and teacher – and over those two years, Oliver has made a considerable impression.

Oliver excels in school and community athletics, and has been identified as one of Victoria’s most promising young soccer players. He is a member of the VI Wave soccer team. His team represents Vancouver Island and competes with other teams from across B.C., playing at the highest performance level available for his age group in Victoria. In addition, Oliver was selected to the Vancouver Whitecaps High Potential Prospect Program, the highlight of which was a 2020 invitation to try out for the Whitecaps training program in Vancouver.

In addition to his skills on the soccer field, Oliver has studied guitar for the last five years and has become quite the songwriter. His music teacher, Kelly Nordstrom, describes Oliver’s current level as college curriculum level. One of the remarkable things about Oliver’s musical talents is how he uses it to connect with his little brother, Tristan, who is on the Autism spectrum. Oliver jams regularly with his little brother, who plays along on the drums.

In the classroom, Oliver excels in all areas. He is bright, insightful, and an excellent collaborator when working in a group. His achievement is outstanding – on his last report card, Oliver earned straight As.

Most remarkable is Oliver’s engaged, empathetic nature. Despite his many accomplishments and gifts, Oliver is kind and inclusive with peers. He is humble and sweet to the people in his life and shows a genuine interest in those he connects with. He is an excellent sportsman, and always has kind, encouraging words for those who need it. Elsdon feels that Oliver is an outstanding candidate for the YES Awards. He represents himself, his family, and community with poise and kindness, and would be an outstanding ambassador to the legacy of this award.

Holly Smith

Grade 10, Oak Bay High School

Leadership teacher and student council sponsor Corrina Simpson nominated Holly Smith for a YES Award. Not only is Holly very organized, mature and responsible, she demonstrates exceptional leadership skills and positive influence over others. Holly is outgoing and caring, and has demonstrated that she can easily take on leadership roles when working among her team members. She takes initiative and ensures her tasks assigned have been completed to the highest degree of quality.

Holly is enrolled in Oak Bay High’s community leadership class, is a writer for the school paper, and an active and vocal member of student council. She has proven to be an advocate for the students and has worked hard to bring some joy and fun to the school in this challenging year. Her peers describe her and kind, thoughtful and caring and not afraid to speak up.

Outside of class time Holly has played hockey for 11 years on both girls and co-ed teams. She has served as captain and assistant captain. She maintains good grades, and holds down a part time job.

She has a passion for fundraising. And has fundraised with her teams, her family and this year her and a fellow student created Rise Together where in her words:

“We support and collaborate with local organizations by bringing in funds, purchasing necessary items and simply helping in any way possible. One of the main aspects Rise Together has brought to the community is the donation jars which were placed in over 22 local businesses. The funds from the jars all went to local charities in support of our community members. The overall goal for Rise Together has been creating a program in our community, for our community.”

It is this wonderful combination of skills, passion and personal qualities that makes Holly a deserving candidate for a YES Award.

Trishna Gill

Grade 10, Oak Bay High School

Corrina Simpson was also pleased to nominate Trishna Gill, an exceptional Grade 10 student at Oak Bay High. Not only is she organized, mature and responsible, she demonstrates caring leadership skills and has a positive influence over others. Trishna is a natural leader, and has demonstrated that she can easily take on leadership roles when working among her team members. Trishna is bright and proven to be reliable.

Trishna is enrolled in Oak Bay’s community leadership class and is a vital and valued member of student council. She has proven to be an advocate for the students and has worked hard to bring some joy and fun to the school in this challenging year. Her peers describe her as a bright and a natural leader who is kind and thoughtful.

For the last several years Trishna has devoted hours volunteering with Khalsa Aid Canada, She helps prepare and serve meals for the homeless, prepares care packages and assists with delivery. During COVID-19 this program has expanded to shopping and preparing care packages for the elderly and those in need who cannot leave their homes.

Along with one of her peers Trishna started Rise Together, an initiative that gives back to the community by supporting a different local not profit each month. She has personally contacted many local businesses around Victoria asking if they could support the initiative by agreeing to have a donation jar at their business or contributing to the non-profit through donations such as gift cards, donations or non-perishables. Some hotels and have given a one night stay gift cards and restaurants have donated gift cards for free meals.

Simpson feels that this combination of talent, hard work and dedication to give back to her community make Trishna a very deserving candidate for a YES Award, and we couldn’t agree more.

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