This is hard for me.
I'm having to keep a secret - a big one. Normally, when I find out something interesting, I rush back to the office to get that information out to print and digital readers as soon as possible.

I'm having to keep a secret - a big one. Normally, when I find out something interesting, I rush back to the office to get that information out to print and digital readers as soon as possible.

Now, I am one of three people in the world who know which Patriot Auto Group Student of the Month will be named Student of the Year and win a brand new Jeep Renegade from Patriot Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Chandler. Amy Price Shelter Insurance has also sponsored the various expenses that come with a new car to keep the winner from driving home with a bill.

I also know which four finalists will receive a $500 scholarship and the 11 others who will win $200 scholarships.

I don't know if I will be able to make it to May 7 without telling someone.

I can tell you that all 16 Student of the Year finalists were worthy selections. Sitting through the interview process with the judges was inspiring.

Some students had incredible parents and great home lives. A couple of them even had parents who were both teachers.

Others had lost one or both parents and still worked to overcome hardship to keep good grades and still serve their communities.

It was a pleasure to hear from these students and realize when they start getting elected or running businesses that society will be in good hands.

All of them have good grades and all of them make a difference where they live. The interviews didn’t make the selection process much easier. The judges truly had to select the best of the best.

One of the students helped organize a student walkout in honor of the Parkland High School shooting victims. She even made sure those participating had support of the administration so that something meant for good wouldn’t turn bad.

Another is headed on a mission trip to Kenya. Several others work with young children through school programs or in their churches to help them learn to read or to learn spiritual truths.

Others have volunteered time and efforts to visit residents of nursing homes and assisted living centers to make sure senior citizens without family members nearby knew people here care about them.

Some were ready to head to college to start a new phase of their lives. Others want to finish schooling and come back to their hometowns. One young woman told the judges she wanted to become a business owner in her hometown, not to become rich, but to be able to give back to students at the school like the people there do now.

One of my favorite parts of the interview process came from Citizen Potawatomi Nation Vice Chair Linda Capps who asked students what a T-shirt would look like if they designed it to describe them. That was a great question that brought some revealing and creative responses.

One student said she would want to make a lot of shirts so she could share them with others. Another said she would have a cross in the middle and one young woman said she would have a sun on her shirt because her favorite Bible verse is Psalm 113:3 “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!

One of my favorite answers to the challenging question was when a young woman began describing the shirt she would design. She designed her imaginary shirt so that the people who saw it would be happy.

Even in describing herself, her frame of reference was to serve others and make them happy.

When Patriot Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram first began this process, I worried that we wouldn’t find a high school senior worthy of winning a new vehicle. After hearing from these kids, I wish we had 16 cars to give away. I know for a fact that there were many great nominees who didn’t even make it to this stage of the competition.

Teenagers get a bad rap sometimes. A few bad apples bring down the reputation for the entire group.

That’s why I appreciate the men at Patriot for shining a light on the best of the best. This contest rewards a great student, encourages others to try harder and shines a light on how many great young men and women are leaving local school systems and heading to college this year.

I can’t wait for May 7 when we put the keys to a new Jeep Renegade in the Student of the Year’s hands. At this year’s Best of Preps awards the vehicle and other scholarships and prizes will mean more than $27,500 will be given out to area seniors. It’s going to be incredible. Go to www.news-star.com/preps for more information about the event.