Last week, 25 seventh- and eighth-graders of the Dr. Martin Luther King School Complex in Atlantic City were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. The newly inducted members were celebrated for their character, service and academic achievement.
"I think the students need to understand … that they are the best of the best," said Olivia Caldwell, honor society adviser and sixth-grade teacher. "That means that they don't only have the grades. It means that they know the importance of service and the importance of being kind."
After a rigorous application process, students were evaluated on their commitment to community service and maintenance of good grades. An average of 90 or above is required, Caldwell said.
On Jan. 8, the 25 were recognized and asked to uphold the five pillars of the society: character, scholarship, leadership, service and citizenship.
The keynote speaker, seventh-grade language arts and literacy teacher Chantel Harley, focused her words of inspiration around the first pillar, character, proposing that the other four areas can be summed up within that one.
She quoted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
The teacher indicated that the inductees were actively fulfilling King's wish and stressed the importance of staying true to who they are, despite any challenges they may face. Before she the left the podium, she read an original poem, "Soar High."
"Be proud of who you are. You are great. You are unique. … Do not compromise," she said.
Superintendent Donna Haye also gave an address. She congratulated the group for clearing the bar and proposed to always "raise the bar to the highest possible level."
"I encourage you to ask yourself, 'Is that bar high enough?'" she said.
Principal Jodi Burroughs - who encouraged her students, as well as the parents in the audience that night - recognized the ceremony as a necessary celebration of goodness.
"I think what makes it special is that they now represent an example in the school," she said afterward.
"Other students are looking at them and aspiring to be like them, and in the world that we live in, I think we need good examples."
One inductee, Shariq Khan, 14, said that the ceremony was overwhelming.
"I was blushing up there on the stage," he said, still with rosy cheeks.
The eighth-grader, who volunteers with the school's Kiwanis Club to clean up beaches and prepare sandwiches for those in need, said his secret to success is simple.
"Want to know a secret?" he asked. "The secret is to not stress over it. You have to focus on it and not be too stressed.
"This is what I do to study: I read it. I go play video games. I come back to it and see if my mind is strong enough to remember it and when it is, that's when I know I'm ready."
Orni Kabir, 12, credited her induction to her teachers. But her advice for being successful stemmed from her self-discipline.
"Study hard and learn," said the seventh-grader, adding that she often stays after school to help teachers and tutor other students.
The other inductees were Vazak Akram, Karen Balderas, Christian Cenidoza, Nayema Chowdhury, Salman Haider, Dihan Hasan, Allure Hayes, Ah'Zhane' Otero-Jackson, Samia Khondaker, Nuzhat Islam, Syeda Islam, Keturah Marcus, Momota Mili, Jesus Rosario, Diganta Roy, Sudeepta Sarkar, Moiz Shaikh, Belgusa Sherifi, Rashema Smith, K'Mirrah Taylor-Reed, Arisai Vasquez, Charlie Wilson and Qandeel Zehra.
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