DeRIDDER, La. -- The Beauregard Parish School Board hosted its 34th annual Beauregard Parish Senior Scholars' Banquet May 7 at the Beauregard Parish Fair Exhibit Hall in DeRidder, Louisiana, honoring more than 100 of its high school seniors for their academic achievements.
Student honorees had to have a 3.5 Grade Point Average (GPA) or higher, and were from DeRidder High School, Merryville High School, Singer High School, South Beauregard High School and East Beauregard High School. Military-connected students from Fort Polk were among those being recognized.
Starting off the event was BPSB President David Vidrine, who found it inspiring seeing the full hall of students and their families.
"Students, this is your night. Parents and loved ones, this is also your night. You've done an excellent job of getting your children to this stage of their lives. We appreciate that," Vidrine said. "I'd also like to commend all the schools and their staff for the work that they've done in delivering the product that you see before us today."
Vidrine challenged the students to take advantage of the opportunities they are given as they move on from high school.
"You are fortunate. You still live in the greatest country on Earth," Vidrine said. "You will have more opportunities and more resources readily available to you to make your life whatever you want it to be. So, don't accept that you can't do something. If you truly want to do it, I assure you it can happen."
BPSB Superintendent Timothy Cooley then took the stage to address the accomplishments of the student honorees.
"Seniors, since you are Beauregard Parish's academic all-stars, tonight we are honored to recognize you for your hard work and dedication to excellence," Cooley said. "Many of you are what makes us known throughout Southwest Louisiana and our country."
Cooley asked the High School Students of the Year from each school to stand and be recognized, and invited the district-level High School Student of the Year, Collin Cooper of Merryville High School, to address the crowd.
Cooper shared his story of how he came to acknowledge the importance of always striving for success in his education. He went from wanting to finish his work quickly and receiving low marks initially, to realizing it's the quality of his academic efforts that truly mattered.
"I learned at a young age, if you do a job, you do it right," Cooper said.
And to his classmates, Cooper said, "You've shown in the past four years of your life that you can handle a workload with integrity and excellence. I encourage you to continue to aim high and achieve your future goals. Do not be afraid to set your future goals high because the rewards outweigh the risks."
Cooley then introduced the guest speaker for evening, East Beauregard High School graduate Britney Glaser Felder, who previously worked as an anchor for KPLC and now teaches broadcast journalism to high school students in Calcasieu Parish.
"It does truly seem like just a few years ago I was in your same seat with that outlook of, 'What is next?'" Felder said. "Your future, your best life, and who you will be is starting right now. It does not end after graduating high school, or graduating college, or even landing your first job. It's something that will keep going."
Felder detailed moving on from high school to college, majoring in broadcast journalism at Louisiana State University, and then having a successful career in television at KPLC in Lake Charles and a larger news network in Waco, Texas.
"I made what outsiders would see as a successful move -- a bigger news market, a more elite position, a much larger paycheck -but deep down I was unsatisfied," she said. "I wanted to feel good in the world. It was humbling to admit I got a bit lost in that season."
She returned to her role at KPLC, and found her joy again. And she soon found herself going through exciting changes in her family life as well.
"As my television career kept growing, so did my family. My demanding job in television was proving not to be the best mix for the demands of motherhood," Felder said.
So, she decided to move on to teaching.
"We all have a story that matters, and I hope while my students share other people's stories that they are recognizing the strength of their own in the process," Felder said.
She concluded by offering some words of wisdom to the students.
"We can and should allow ourselves to keep changing, keep growing and keep evolving. We are not defined by what we did. Your GPA, ACT score, college recommendation letter -- none of those define you," Felder said. "Who do you want to be? Answer it with your heart. Give yourself permission to change and answer that question differently as the seasons of your life change. I can't wait to see who you will be."
The recognition of scholars followed, with each student receiving a certificate and medal.
DeRidder High School senior Cameron LeJeune said it felt good to receive his award.
"I put in four years of hard work of studying the books and being able to finish my work," he said. "It was very stressful the whole way through, but I set higher expectations for myself. In the end, I still performed as best as I could and I'm proud of what I did."
His mother, Jessica, said seeing her son recognized for his achievements is rewarding.
"You work hard with your kids when they're little doing their homework, and then they get old enough and they achieve all of this on their own," she said. "It's very fulfilling."
Julie Kyle, a DeRidder High School honoree, was very appreciative of the recognition.
"It's an honor," Kyle said. "It's hard work, but it's worth it."
Her mother, Nicole, who is also a teacher at DeRidder High School, said the whole night was amazing.
"I get to see not only my students, but also my oldest child be recognized for all of her hard work," she said. "It's extra special."
The event concluded with a presentation of the Beauregard Parish Teachers of the Year. Fort Polk Progress was one of the sponsors for this award.
"It's very humbling and unexpected," said Joshua Beard, Beauregard Parish High School Teacher of the Year from DeRidder High School. "I am very appreciative of everybody who supported me and thought I was good enough to deserve the honor."
Fort Polk Progress Chairman Michael Reese said it was great for BPSB to acknowledge the Beauregard Parish Teachers of the Year and their commitment to the success of their students.
"We were glad to sponsor the recognition of these outstanding educators, and are thankful for their constant efforts to ensure the students of Beauregard Parish receive a quality education," Reese said.
Reese also expressed his gratitude to BPSB for taking the time to put together this special night for the students.
"These students are so deserving of this recognition," Reese said. "Their dedication and determination to succeed is admirable. This is just the beginning of all the success to come in their lives."