Mays Landing resident Victoria Giansante, a 17-year-old junior at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Newfield, keeps her plate full.

In addition to being among the top students in her class, Giansante is an accomplished musician, participates in a number of extracurricular groups through her school, and is generous in giving her time to her community. And, her parents say, none of this hard work required any coaxing on their part.

"She's driven," said her mother, Jayne. "We don't have to say, 'Do your homework. Study for your test.' And we never did."

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Giansante's hard work and community involvement were recently recognized with a pair of prestigious scholarships, one from Widener University worth $20,000 and another from the University of Rochester worth $30,000. The scholarships will be applied to tuition should she choose to attend either school.

Giansante was one of 93 students in the tri-state area to receive the Widener High School Leadership award. She and her fellow recipients were honored in a breakfast at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in February and attended a one-day leadership seminar at Widener.

She was recommended for the scholarships by her guidance counselor, Lory Golden, who said she was proud to see her student given the recognition she deserves.

"She's a role model and mentor for younger students in the area, and she's also really talented," said Golden, who lives in the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township.

Giansante has excelled academically since she was enrolled at Assumption Regional Catholic School in Galloway Township for pre-kindergarten, and is a scholarship student at Our Lady of Mercy. In addition to her strength in the classroom, Giansante is well-liked by her peers and was elected the junior class president for this school year.

Outside of school, Giansante spends much of her time making music, and she can sing as well as play the piano, ukulele and guitar. She also volunteers as a mentor with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization and spends much of her spare time in winter finding and distributing firewood and kindling to elderly members of her neighborhood in Mays Landing, many of whom heat their homes with wood stoves.

While Widener and Rochester are collegiate possibilities for Giansante, considering their significant awards, she said she most hopes to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts. Giansante, a prolific creative writer who hopes to make a living through the written word, said she was wooed by the history of the school, which counts many influential literary figures among its alumni.

While some might take the awards as a cause for rest, Giansante said they have instead led her to redouble her efforts to succeed.

"When I realized that I'm capable of doing something that warrants getting some sort of award or scholarship, I realized if I push harder, I can be more successful," she said.

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