From overcoming the death of a parent to strengthening bonds between a father and son, winners and nominees in area Student of the Year contests have pushed though life’s challenges to become academic scholars, star athletes and activists in their communities.

While reading essays on Iberville Parish students, I discovered the sources behind their success: Families, teachers, principals and schools that have provided these students with the support they needed to flourish.

D’Morea Wicks is a prime example. The Plaquemine High honor senior is a first-district star quarterback who grew up in a single-parent home in a neighborhood where teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and dropping out are the norm.

Wicks wanted better. Though he bounced from home to home, he wrote, he eventually moved in with his father during his teen years. “He (Dad) got me back into football … He began to hold me to a higher standard and told me that I had to bring home all A’s. That’s how I became the academic-minded kid that I am now. As I grew older, I began to understand the importance of education,” Wicks wrote.

He has no regrets.

“I could easily have been the kid that used to go to school and gets shot dead in the streets … Instead, I am that humble kid who understands life more for what it is and believes there is a way out and I have to continue to have faith in God.”

Bryce Gullota was only 1 when he lost his father, but had his family.

“When I need a shoulder to lean on, or just someone to talk to, (my family) is there,“ said the eighth-grader at the Math, Science and Arts Academy-West.

Gullota, a theater student, takes into the community that spirit of family, serving meals to the homeless, participating in food and toy drives and tutoring theater students.

Support and guidance from her teachers and administrators drove Rachel Ellis to new heights. The Math, Science and Arts Academy-West senior and honor student is an award-winning track athlete who also takes dual-enrollment courses.

“It has not always been easy, but I have found that balancing academics and athletics has helped me to become a well-rounded student,” she said. She also resisted peer pressure. “It is always better to just be yourself, even if it means that people will not like you,” she said.

Leigha Russ, a Crescent Elementary School honor student with diabetes, often advocates for children battling type 2 diabetes. Wrote Russ, a liturgical dancer, “… I want to be able to educate other children like me on how important exercise and healthy eating are.”

These students’ attitudes, passion and motivation to excel can inspire us all to work harder.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at