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Long-time classmates making the most of their senior year

Four long-time friends and classmates are marking their senior year with academic excellence and ably representing North Lenoir High School in competition for top merit scholarships.

Two of the seniors – Caroline Lafone and Adamary Gaona – are finalists for the Park Scholarship to NC State University. Additionally, Adamary is a finalist for the full-ride Chancellor’s Scholarship to Appalachian State University.

 Two male high school seniors flank two female senior as they lean on the top of a bookcase.Classmates Chase Sutton and Austin Williams were among the 20 percent of all applicants who reached the semi-final stage of competition, Chase for the Park and Austin for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

Chase, Caroline and Austin have been together their entire time in school. These former Banks Elementary students joined Adamary, who attended La Grange Elementary, in the sixth grade at EB Frink Middle School.

“They are close, a little competitive, but always wanting to see each other do well,” school counselor Rachel Hewett said.

Seniors are selected as semi-finalists for the Park and Morehead-Cain on the basis of their academic record, references and information submitted in the application process, including a series of essays. Caroline and Adamary advanced on the strength of interviews with university and scholarship representatives, conducted remotely earlier this month.

The Park Scholarship is valued at $116,000 for in-state students, covers all expenses as well as providing a host of personal and professional development opportunities. About 40 scholarship are awarded, chosen from 112 finalists. Those students will take the next step in the selection process with interviews in Raleigh in mid-February.

Making the cut was a nice payoff for years of hard work in the classroom, according to North Lenoir’s Park finalists.

“It feels great to know that everything that we’ve done leading up to this is finally paying off. We are seeing everything come together,” Caroline said.

“Having to sacrifice all the times you could hang out with friends or hang out with family so you could do homework and get the grades you need, it definitely feels that everything is finally worth it,” Adamary said.

As a finalist for the Chancellor’s Scholarship, billed as Appalachian State’s oldest and most academically-competitive merit-based scholarship, Adamary is in line for Honors College admission and an all-expense-paid university education, plus benefits like study abroad, access to research grants, travel funds and personalized mentoring. The university awards about 10 of the scholarships a year and is expected to announce its 2024 Chancellor’s Scholars by the end of February.

This quartet of students shares characteristics that meet the standards of prestigious scholarships – excellent grades, rigorous academic schedule, leadership experience and strong involvement in school and community activities.

Caroline, 17, is vice president of the Student Government Association, a member of the National Honor Society and the varsity soccer team and is co-leader of the Hawk Crazees student section. She has participated in a host of community groups and activities – among them, Lenoir/Greene Young Life, Junior Leadership Lenoir and Chick-fil-A Leader Academy. She served as a North Carolina House Page, attended Rotary International’s RYLA Leadership Conference and was a Rotarian of the Month. She is co-leader of Project Please Stay, which she brought to North Lenoir as a mechanism “to spread positivity, mental health awareness and hope during stressful times when teens are going through internal battles.”

She plans to major in chemistry in pursuit of a career as a dentist “and come back here and work.” She is the daughter of Ryan and Hailey Lafone of La Grange.

The top student in her class, a position she has held since the ninth grade, Adamary is president of North Lenoir’s DECA chapter and a multiple winner in DECA regional competitions in marketing and entrepreneurship. She is a member of the SGA, College Ambassadors, National Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Junior Leadership Lenoir. She plays soccer and volleyball for the Hawks and was captain of her volleyball team in both her junior and senior seasons.

She plans to major in major in innovation and entrepreneurship “so that I can help smaller businesses start up and be successful.” She is the 18-year-old daughter of Paula Llamas and Gregorio Gaona of La Grange.

Chase, 17, is an all-conference soccer player for a team he captained and a member of the golf team that won a conference championship. In November, he was named a Heisman High School Scholarship winner. He is a member of the National Honor Society and is active in Junior Leadership Lenoir and Project Please Stay. He is a regular volunteer for LCPS at district-wide activities like Special Olympics and Science Olympiad.

He plans to study law and become a real estate attorney. He is the son of Preston and Sheila Sutton of La Grange.

Austin, 18, is a member of the National Honor Society and Phi Theta Kappa honor society, the Student Government Association, YoungLife and College Ambassadors, among other clubs and organizations. He attended North Carolina Governor’s School as a sophomore and served as a legislative page as a junior. Since the first grade, he has been active in the North Lenoir Drama Club, appearing on stage in 18 productions. A member of Troop 392 of Boy Scouts of America, he holds a Life Rank and is completing Eagle Scout requirements. He is captain of his school’s conference champion tennis team and the cross-country team and teaches tennis at multiple locations in Lenoir and Greene counties.

Austin plans to study law and work in the area of public policy. He is the son of Brent and Amy Williams of Kinston.

All four served as graduation marshals as juniors, all are accumulating college credits through courses at Lenoir Community College and all juggle school work with part-time work.

“These are four stand-out seniors. They are all involved and they are all willing to help when we need things,” Hewett, the school counselor, said. “They are true ambassadors for our school and we’re very proud of them.

Photo caption:

Long-time friends and classmates, from left, Chase Sutton, Adamary Gaona, Caroline Lafone and Austin Williams continue to distinguish themselves through academics, athletics and extracurricular activities as seniors at North Lenoir High School. With Adamary and Caroline, the school has for the first time two finalists for the prestigious Park Scholarship to NC State University from the same class.