Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 18, 2014

John Cannon: A weekend of transition concludes happily: 3/19/14

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — It was a weekend of transition for my oldest granddaughter, a senior at Paul G. Blazer High School. It began in Richmond on Friday and in Lexington on Saturday for the annual state mock trial competition. Next came the state Governor’s Cup  competition on Sunday and Monday at the Galt House in downtown Louisville.

While Aryssa, 18, was answering questions as a member of Blazer’s quick recall team, a letter for her arrived in the mail at our house in Ashland.

That letter made this St. Patrick’s Day one to remember for Aryssa, because in it she finally got the offer she could not refuse. She learned she had been named a Johnson Scholar at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.

According to the letter, the scholarship is valued at $61,000 a year and would be automatically renewed for four years as long as she maintained a 3.3 grade point average.  Aryssa has yet to receive her first “B” and I can’t imagine her not being able to maintain a GPA of 3.3.

Not only does the scholarship include tuition at a private school where Aryssa could not even afford to drink water without financial help, it also includes room and board and books and even a small stipend for living expenses. Oh, it also sets aside $7,000 a year for summer programs, including study abroad.

Aryssa had already been awarded a full scholarship at Western Kentucky University, and she had virtually been assured a full ride at Bellarmine in Louisville, which was her first choice. However, after being flown to Washington & Lee at the school’s expense for the scholarship interview last month, Aryssa came back in love with the small school named for George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Needless to say, that’s where Aryssa will be headed this fall, and since it is less than four hours from Ashland, her mother and grandparents are elated.

Oddly enough, the weekend began with Aryssa being disappointed at her mock trial team’s mediocre showing at the state competition. She had so wanted to finish her high school career with her team finishing in the Top 10, but it was not to be. However, for the fourth consecutive year, Aryssa was named the top lawyer for Blazer’s team, and there is a chance she could become part of Washington & Lee’s mock trial team.

At the academic competition, Aryssa finished near the top in the language arts individual competition and Blazer’s quick recall team won two matches before being eliminated by the eventual state champion.

As my wife and I watched Aryssa effectively destroy a key defense witness as the lead prosecutor in a courtroom in downtown Lexington and then answer questions for the quick recall team the next day, I realized it could well be the last time we saw our granddaughter in competition after years of sitting through quick recall competitions and mock trials. She had been on the quick recall team since fourth grade at Oakview Elementary School, and then was an academic star for two years at Southern Middle School in Lexington before moving back to Ashland, where she immediately joined the quick recall team at Verity Middle School.

Ironically, at Verity, Stephen Corbitt, who had competed against Aryssa’s Oakview teams when he was student at Hager Elementary, was now a teammate, and Stephen and Aryssa formed the nucleus of a good team at Blazer. They also became an “item” outside the competition.

Now that mock trial and academic competition have ended for the year, Aryssa said she will spend the rest of her time at Blazer studying for Advanced Placement exams, which could earn her college credit. Getting a 3 or better on the five-point AP exams this year could be a bit of a challenge because of the number of days school has been called off by snow and water issues. The dates of the AP exams are set and it makes no difference how many days of school have been missed. Thus, Aryssa is doing a lot of studying on her own in preparation for the challenging exams.

Aryssa also has won an Elks scholarship and a number of other smaller awards. But because she is now a Johnson Scholar at Washington & Lee, she no longer has to worry about how to pay for her college education. Her years of excellence in the classroom are paying huge dividends, but there is one thing that has always been a mystery to me: She was never accepted into the “gifted” program as an elementary student in Ashland. Obviously that did not hurt her one bit, but if she is not “gifted,” then I don’t know how they define the word.

Obviously, the folks at Washington & Lee saw something in Aryssa those in the “gifted” program in Ashland missed.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com and at (606) 326-2649.