EDHS student earns $41,000 scholarship, will be co-valedictorian for class of 2020

by Sylene Argent

photos submitted

When Emily Stanley and Josh O’Neil were still playing in the sandbox during their playful days of kindergarten, they would never have predicted their friendship would continue to grow into high school and that they would both be selected to be co-valedictorians for the Essex District High School Class of 2020.

  When the duo got a phone call from the local high school last week, they were told they were both going to be valedictorians. Staff members of EDHS, she said, noted they felt with the current climate due to COVID-19, a change up, in having two valedictorians, would be nice.

  They were thrilled to hear of this decision.

  “We’ve been friends since like JK. We’ve been really close,” O’Neil said of his friendship with Stanley. “It was awesome when we heard the news.”

  The duo noted they will record their speech, which will be put into a video for the graduating class. The actual graduation ceremony, they added, will be postponed until COVID-19 is cleared up.

  O’Neil said he had his heart set on the role since the beginning of the schoolyear, and had friends tell him he should pursue that goal. “And, I was just that friend who was hyping him up to be valedictorian,” Stanley said.

  Before they got the call, O’Neil remembers telling Stanley, “What if they asked us to be co-valedictorians. That would be so cool. We’d kill it.”

  Stanley said she and O’Neil have already been hard at work at preparing the speech and bouncing ideas off of each other. They hope the speech will bring to light to what is going on right now. “We kind of decided to go with a sense of community. We realized over the past four-years how important that is.”

  “We are really trying to put on a good speech for everyone,” O’Neil added.

  For a while, with administrators unsure on what to do with graduations with the pandemic social distancing restrictions, Stanley and O’Neil were not even sure if they were going to get to celebrate wrapping up their secondary school careers with their peers.

  “Grad is the time to take pride in your past four years. It is supposed to be the most rewarding time of high school. To kind of have that stripped, not intentionally, we wanted our closure,” Stanley said in wanting grad to take form in some way.

  “For me,” O’Neil added, “I’ve been looking forward to being the valedictorian all year. I’ve been working on my speech and when we find out about all the COVID stuff going on and that there probably wasn’t going to be a grad, it was a heartbreaking moment because I had my heart set on this for a while.

  In addition, Stanley leaned she earned the $41,000 Robert Little and Debra Deane Little Scholarship through the Greater Essex District County School Board, which is presented to students who demonstrate a combination of academic ability, financial need, and balanced personal development. 

  On Thursday, Stanley was a little confused to see EDHS staff members show up at her house, wearing masks and gloves, holding signs of congratulations. But, she was delighted to learn the visit was to announce she earned the scholarship. 

“I had no idea it was going to be me,” she said, noting she was grateful for the opportunity.

  “It is kind of weird to talk about,” Stanley said of earning the scholarship as she is the type that tries to put others first. “This is kind of a huge change up to really celebrate who I am.”  

  Stanley and O’Neil have been heavily into athletics during their time at EDHS, so it is no surprise these long-time friends will both be studying human kinetics at the University of Windsor this fall.  

  As an athlete, Stanley would like to help other athletes heal from injuries.    

Stanley and O’Neil are excited to share a similar schedule and car pool into the city to study.

  “We are two peas in a pod,” Stanley said.

  Stanley wanted to shine a light on the staff at EDHS for the support shown. “They are always there for us. It truly did show, when they came to my house on Thursday, that their hearts are always in the right place.” She added that COVID did highlight how big the EDHS family is.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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