20 under 20 recipients honored

Twenty future area leaders were urged Tuesday to “think big” by a man who helped turn a convenience store into a multibillion company.

“You can be anything you want to be. This is America. You determine your own fate,” Steve Sheetz, chairman of the board of Sheetz Inc., told honorees and guests at the Altoona Mirror’s second annual “20 under 20” banquet.

The event recognized 20 high school students from the Mirror’s coverage area for outstanding achievement in academics, the arts and community service.

Sheetz, the guest speaker at the awards luncheon at The Casino at Lakemont Park, praised the 20 teenagers selected by a six-member panel and urged them to achieve more. He told them to “think big” because America gives them the freedom to do so.

Two of the high school students, one each from Penn Cambria and Central, were chosen by the event’s panel of business, arts and community leaders to receive $500 scholarships.

Taylor Freeman of Penn Cambria is ranked No. 1 in her senior class. She serves as class president and has been a state and national forensics competitor. She also has given many after-school hours visiting Home Nursing Agency patients.

Central’s Aaron Kreider is class president, a member of the mock trial team and a Martinsburg Borough junior council member.

Kreider, who plans to study law, said his mock trial experience and mission trips have been valuable experiences for him.

“Mission trips let me know how privileged I am,” he said.

Freeman said she has especially grown from serving as class president and also as a hospice volunteer.

“It opens your eyes to the world,” she said.

Freeman’s parents said she takes advantage of every opportunity available to her.

Freeman and Kreider said they were surprised when they learned they were receiving the scholarships.

“It feels amazing. It’s an honor just to be here, but to win an award like this is an amazing feeling,” said Freeman, who plans to pursue a career in medicine.

All 20 of the honorees were presented with an award and a portrait at the luncheon.

Anyone could nominate a student for the 20 under 20 awards. Eighty-six students from 18 school districts were nominated this year, with 73 of them completing biographies allowing them to be judged.

The nomination was a surprise for the students, many of whom are driven by a responsibility to themselves and to others.

“I’m extremely blessed for what I was given, and I want to give back,” said James Nackley, a Hollidaysburg Area senior. He is in the top 5 percent of his class and is an anti-bullying speaker for elementary schools in his district.

Last year’s scholarship recipients Caleb Gildea and Joana Li addressed this year’s group.

Li, a senior at Hollidaysburg, continues volunteer work and is the valedictorian of her class. In the fall she will be studying law at Princeton University.

“Take this opportunity as encouragement to continue to strive,” she said. “Be thankful for the wonderful community support you have.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.