On the last day of the school year and her final day at Old Donation School (ODS), eighth-grader Cameryn Conger was surprised with the news that the Virginia Association for the Gifted (VAG) has named her its 2017-2018 Outstanding Student Award winner at the secondary level. According to the VAG, nominees must be in grades 6-12 and have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in the area of academics, the arts or leadership.
Conger, who will be a freshman at Ocean Lakes High School in the fall, served as an ODS Student Ambassador as well as a member of the school’s yearbook staff, Operation Smile Club and chorus. She volunteers in the community at the Pungo Senior Resource Center, Princess Anne Public Library, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and Creeds Elementary School, serving more than 150 volunteer hours last year.
Denise Schmitter, ODS school counseling department chairperson, highlighted Conger’s work as an ODS Student Ambassador in her VAG nomination letter. She wrote that she selected Conger for the ambassador role after being struck by “her big smile and the ease in which she interacted with both her peers and adults.” Because of Conger’s struggles with anxiety, noted Schmitter, “these everyday interactions were sometimes not as easy as they appeared.”
“First-year ambassadors are often timid and hesitate to take the lead,” wrote Schmitter. “Cameryn was the exact opposite. She was the first to volunteer for events and always shared her requests and concerns. Cameryn even initiated what will likely become an annual student ambassador event, a lock-in at the school. Cameryn planned all the details of the event.”
In her student composition for the award, Conger reflected on the lock-in event that had impressed Schmitter and others.
“We planned every part of it from the ground up including chaperones, budgeting, planning activities, shopping for materials and even getting a permission slip sent out,” wrote Conger. “We scheduled meetings with our principal and our chaperones weekly to get everyone on the same page and make sure everyone knew the plans.”
Working with her fellow students gave her something even more valuable than event planning skills.
“Being a student ambassador has let me become an outgoing participant in my school community, and it has made me branch out from being an anxious and nervous sixth-grader to being a confident, strong and happy eighth-grader,” she reflected.
Schmitter has also observed Conger’s growth.
“What stands out to me is Cameryn’s compassion for others. [She] has volunteered to talk with other students who are experiencing anxiety. By sharing her story, Cameryn hopes to help students recognize triggers and strategies to get them through anxiety attack moments,” wrote Schmitter. “She has matured and grown into an outstanding young woman.”
As the VAG 2017-2018 Outstanding Student Award winner, Conger will receive a $250 cash award and will be officially recognized by the association at its fall conference.