Kids these days.

Older generations always use selective memory and hyperbole to compare themselves to the next generation of leaders.

Grandpa didn't really walk seven miles in the snow uphill both ways to get to school. Uncle Rico couldn't really throw the football over the mountain. It's true for most people; the older they get, the better they used to be.

That worldview tends to lead people to be hypercritical of young people. It is easy to criticize the whole barrel when you only look at the bad apples. 

That's my favorite thing about this incredible program that Tatton Manning and Seth Knighton of the Patriot Auto Group sponsor. For an entire year, schools from our area send us examples of the best apples in the barrel. Then in April, I get to spend two entire days getting to talk to these students about their activities and accomplishments and what motivates them to keep aiming higher when settling for less is easier.

The 16 Student of the Year Finalists were all amazing. They have different personalities, different activities and different motivations to be who they are. The one thing that united them was their desire to be the best. They all work hard. They are all smart, thoughtful and grounded individuals.

I am incredibly grateful that I didn't have to decide who the winner would be. The next two weeks of keeping that secret will be difficult. 

My favorite question I receive comes when people find out that Patriot donates a new car to the winner of this competition. 

"Why would they do that?"

I have known these two men for about three years now. You know why they make this huge investment in a program like this? It is for the same reason that these top students achieve so much at such a young age. It is how they were raised. It is who they are. They put their money where everyone else's mouth is. They wanted to set a goal for great students with a prize worthy of their dedication.

Their hope was to institute a program that recognized and rewarded students who do great things. Knowing that a program like this exists could become added motivation to encourage young people to make good grades, serve their schools and communities, live a life of high moral integrity and be people of character.

This program is nearing the conclusion of its second year in our area. Already this year, one of the finalists talked about how one of last year's finalists had been a mentor to her and encouraged her to get the most out of her high school career and do everything she can for others.

We have 16 incredible young people in the running for Student of the Year and the brand new Jeep Renegade this year. I want to share some of what judges CPN Vice Chair Dr. Linda Capps and TDK Ferrites CEO Charlene Norvell found out about them during in-person interviews Thursday and Friday.

These 16 finalists have done great things for people from McLoud to Malawi and from Shawnee to Senegal. 

That isn't hyperbole. 

One student was raised the daughter of missionaries in Senegal and came back to be an extraordinary person and student in Shawnee. In her time here, she volunteered at Cargo Ranch among many other activities and acts of service.

Another young woman visited a school in the African country of Malawi and came back and worked with other students to raise funds to put a new concrete floor in the school there. 

One young man rose early every day to raise the flag at his school and stayed late to lower it correctly each day. 

A few volunteered at food banks or food drives for people who need help around the holidays and during the year. Many were involved in their Student Councils and FFA where part of their work includes acts of service. Let me tell you, the students in leadership organizations and those in FFA are well-prepared for a successful future.

Several of them have served as youth mentors to other teens or young students in their districts. Others had served as pages at the State Capitol.

I loved some of their thoughts and comments:

• "I want to be a person who serves others." What a great stated goal. We should all want that.

• "Being a leader or being involved isn't attention seeking, it is about serving people first." She gets it. The same young woman also said, "You have to lead in a way people will want to follow you."

• One said he helped with a food bank through his church because, "I have never known what it is to be hungry and I don't want anyone else to feel that either." Empathy motivates. Empathy dispels hate. All true leaders are blessed with it. This young man is blessed with it.

One finalist is an Eagle Scout. Another is a Type 1 diabetic who has used her daily struggle to teach nursing students to relate better to young patients. Some come from homes where education was a priority. Others overcame environments where it wasn't because they saw the value themselves.

All 16 should be proud of all they have done and I can't wait to see where they are in 10 years. 

The Patriot Auto Group supports three programs like this across Oklahoma. I hope they continue to expand it because it is a life-changing program for the winner and it highlights some of the best students who might not find the spotlight another way.

But mostly I hope it continues to grow because the world needs more young people like these and any project or program that encourages young leaders to try harder and do more makes their schools, communities and the whole world a better place to live.