In 1957, when the Tucson Citizen set out to pick the top high school student in the city that year, the editors may have thought it was possible to choose just one teenager who was the very best.
What this project has proved through more than half a century is that local schools are filled with caring, intelligent, thoughtful young people who have been, and will continue to be, fabulous leaders and contributors to our world.
Many past winners have gone into law or medical professions. Some have taken jobs that help the underprivileged.
Sari Horwitz, the 1975 Student Achievement Award winner and an investigative reporter at The Washington Post, has won three Pulitzer Prizes, the most recent just last year. She was nominated for one this year, as well.
The nomination was for a 13-part series with another reporter on the murder of Federal Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy. The series prompted Washington, D.C., police last fall to reopen the7-year-old case. In early March, they arrested a man the stories had focused on.
The top journalism prize last year went to the 11-member Washington Post team Horwitz was on that covered the Virginia Tech shootings, the deadliest campus massacre in U.S. history.
In 2002, she won a Pulitzer for a series uncovering the District of Columbia government’s role in the deaths of children placed in protective care. In 1999, her first Pulitzer, the Pulitzer board’s Gold Medal for public service, went to Horwitz and four colleagues at the Post for a five-part series on the high rate of police shootings in the District of Columbia.
Winning such big awards hasn’t kept her from remembering the one she received from the Citizen almost 34 years ago.
As a senior at Tucson High, it was the biggest award she had ever won.
In 1975 she was a teenager who had never been back East and was more than a little nervous to know that in a few months she would be on her way to Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia.
“The big award from my hometown newspaper and the front-page story about me sent me off with confidence,” she said.
Horwitz, who graduated from Bryn Mawr and then from Oxford, said she is sad to see the end of the Tucson Citizen, and the end of the Student Achievement Award.
“In these hard economic times, especially in the newspaper business, it’s wonderful to see that the hometown newspaper continued to give out these awards. It’s a big honor for the recipients and their families,” she said.
The Citizen used to give winners watches. For a brief time, it changed to gift certificates, and, in the last few years, $500 scholarships.
It rarely was easy to choose who would get that scholarship.
By the time we got to the handful of finalists who would come in for interviews, we were overwhelmed by the breadth of knowledge and experiences one young person could cram into four years of high school. In 2000, 2003 and 2005, the Citizen chose two winners each.
In just the last few years, we have had winners who have started organizations, been to Africa to teach children English, and had to flee a hostile homeland for speaking out against political injustice.
We expect that among our winners, we may have a future chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and maybe even a president of Iraq.
Throughout the past 51 years, a handful of families have been great producers of students nominated for the award. Two pairs of siblings have won the award. And four times one family has had a winner (or winners) and a finalist.
Duoc Ngoc and Nga Thuy Duoug, both high school teachers in Vietnam, and their children fled that war-torn country and came to Tucson just before the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Daughters Thuy Ngoc and Thu Mai won in 1988 and 1990, respectively, and son Quang was a finalist in 1989.
T. Herman and Teddy K. Moore raised two winners, Julia in 1980 and Eric in 1984. Gabriela and Frank Konarski’s son John was one of two winners in 2000 and daughter Patricia was a finalist in 1998.
When we were interviewing Jessica (Miller) Hartley in 2007, 10 years after she won the award, her sister, Rebecca Miller was one of our finalists. Their parents are Dane and Mary Miller.
Another Vietnamese family, headed by Ho Cam Thai and Canh Thi Phan, had a daughter, Hong Anh, who won in 1996 and a son, Hai Anh, who was finalist in 1993.
Early on, before we named finalists, the Rev. John and Hazel Coatsworth had three children nominated: David in 1966, Wendy in 1972 and Cindy in 1977. David won the award.
Catalina Magnet High has had the most winners, 11, from the second contest in 1958, won by Robert Kirk Young, to the 2004 winner, Mariana Gramajo-Sherman.
Tucson High had the second-most winners at seven: The first winner from THS was Emma Gee; its most recent winner was Katherine “Kata” Pettit in 2003.
Desert Christian High School, whose students rank extremely high in volunteerism, had two winners in the past three years: Carina Groves and Ali Rawaf.
The contest is the longest project the newspaper has had in its more than 138 years of publication.
In 1964, Jon Hoffman said he wanted to become a dentist. He did, practicing here for 31 years before retiring in 2005.
The award “made me feel very good about myself. I had worked very hard to earn it.” And 45 years later, “I still have the watch the Citizen gave me. It’s had a lot of wear, but I can still read the inscription.”
Some who didn’t win have lived up to the promise we saw in them as nominees. Hundreds of them, we’re sure. We’ve heard from a few.
Lauren Johnston Lowe, a 1998 nominee, guards children’s rights as a lawyer in the Child and Family Protective Service division of the state Attorney General’s Office.
Jack Gillum, a 2002 nominee, is database editor for USA TODAY, the nation’s largest newspaper, with a daily readership of more than 3.5 million.
We thank all the nominees through the years who showed us what teens really are like and how they planned to make our world better. We’re sad we cannot bring you many more years of examples.
Citizen file photo
Year: Recipient, School
1957: Emma Gee, Tucson High
1958: Robert Kirk Young, Catalina
1959: Russell Sidney Nielsen, Sunnyside
1960: Margaret Ann King, Salpointe Catholic
1961: John Moffatt, Catalina
1962: James R. Davis, Catalina
1963: Joel M. Vavich, Tucson High
1964: Jon A. Hoffman, Catalina
1965: Diana Lee Baum, Flowing Wells
1966: David R. Coatsworth, Pueblo
1967: Jennie Tom, Flowing Wells
1968: Douglas Barry Wilson, Rincon
1969: James Wood, Salpointe Catholic
1970: May Gin, Flowing Wells
1971: Carol Gilman, Catalina
1972: David Galligan, Catalina
1973: David W. Quinto, Canyon del Oro
1974: Douglas R. Linkhart, Palo Verde
1975: Sari Horwitz, Tucson High
1976: Mark Barker, Amphitheater
1977: Thomas R. Harrell, Tucson High
1978: Wayne E. Yehling, Tucson High
1979: Bari Weick, Tucson High
1980: Julia Elise Moore, Amphitheater
1981: Heidi Van Voris, Sabino
1982: Lynn Marcus, Catalina
1983: Daryl Clarke Johnson, Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind
1984: Eric J. Moore, Amphitheater
1985: Fong Sau Tom, Palo Verde
1986: Tinamarie Federico, Pueblo
1987: Flint Callaway, Sahuarita
1988: Thuy Ngoc Duong, Santa Rita
1989: Brad Alan Chvatal, Sahuaro
1990: Thu Mai Duong, Santa Rita
1991: Ross Crowley, Flowing Wells
1992: Shannon Clark, Catalina
1993: Wendelyn Julien, Amphitheater
1994: Francisco Manuel Hernandez, Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind
1995: Julie Martin, Desert View
1996: Hong Anh Thai, Catalina
1997: Jessica Miller, Flowing Wells
1998: Clair Donovan, Catalina
1999: Heather Ayn Davis, Immaculate Heart
2000: John Konarski, Desert View; Alia Gecobe Peera, Santa Rita
2001: Jennifer Musty, Salpointe Catholic
2002: Marcella Marie Acosta, Santa Rita
2003: Christopher Courneen, Pueblo High; Katherine “Kata” Pettit, Tucson High
2004: Mariana Gramajo-Sherman, Catalina
2005: Annalyn Rose Censky, Salpointe Catholic High; Kevin Joseph Lopez, Ha:Sañ Preparatory and Leadership School
2006: Carina Groves, Desert Christian High
2007: Amber Rose Horvath, St. Gregory College Preparatory School
2008: Ali Rawaf, Desert Christian High