With 11 participating schools and 76 student nominations made by school guidance counselors, 32 students were named Paducah Bank Teens of the Week this year, receiving special recognition for their outstanding academic achievements and exemplary character.
But only one of those 32 students could be named Teen of the Year.
Monday evening, before an audience of her Teen of the Week peers in the Carson Center's River Room, Paducah Tilghman High School senior Grace Raber was presented the Paducah Bank Teen of the Year title, as well as the $5,000 scholarship that comes with it.
Paducah Bank Chairman and CEO Joe Framptom presented Raber with her award Monday night in front of the crowd of teens and their families who had been recognized, and said she checked off all the boxes of qualities that are sought after for Teen of the Week.
"...But what set her apart as this year's Teen of the Year?" Framptom asked. "As a foster child and without the privileges enjoyed by many high-achieving students, Grace has persevered through high school in the fact that she never let her home life or personal struggles keep her from succeeding academically. She has done it on her own and she has never looked back."
Framptom described Raber as high-achieving. She holds a 4.0 GPA, will graduate with 12 AP credits, is an AP Scholar with Distinction, and holds an ACT composite score of 33. She is also a Kentucky Governor's Scholar, a state representative for the Commissioner's State Student Council and has earned a full scholarship to Princeton University.
"Still, Grace sees the power in the helping hand, and said she doesn't feel like any of her achievements were completely self-made," Framptom said. "That's why Grace views her academic success as a way for her to uplift fellow foster children and set an example for her foster and biological sisters."
Raber will be the first member of her family to attend a four-year university, and plans to pursue a career as a psychologist, with dreams of one day opening an independent practice.
"I just feel so honored to be able to stand up here today and be able to represent myself, my family, and my foster mom, Lisa," Raber said. "I never thought I would get here, it's a dream come true. I mean, going to Princeton and this has just been beyond my expectations of what I thought I could accomplish. I'm just so happy that I can pave the way for my younger sisters and encourage them to go for their dreams as well."
A $1,000 scholarship was also presented Monday evening to Thomas Dean Simmons of McCracken County High School, who was chosen as this year's Inspirational Award winner.
"Diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at age 5, Thomas Dean Simmons learned early that his differences weren't a hindrance, but a strength," Framptom said.
Video game technology has been a long-time passion for Simmons, and he was encouraged by his family, including his late mother, Surrisa Simmons, to pursue that dream.
His talent and passion led him to compete at the state level in Action SkillsUSA, a career and technical student organization, during his sophomore, junior, and senior years. He placed at regional, state, and national levels, including eighth in the country, by demonstrating his favorite skill - playing video games.
"It's really a shock," Simmons said after accepting his award. "I mean, everyone's a winner. I bet my mom is really proud of me, too. I really miss her so much, but she is always looking down on me and making sure that my dream comes true to be a video game tester."