Cecil Wins National Award

Cecil Wins
Cecil Wins

This past week at the National Speech and Debate Association’s National Speech and Debate Tournament, 2018 LaRue County graduate Elena Cecil was named the National Student of the Year during the awards ceremony on Friday evening. Earlier in the year, 78 NSDA Districts from all over the United States submitted their District Student of the Year for consideration for the top spots.  Elena was named the Kentucky District Student of the Year in March, and in May was announced as a top six finalist for the national award. “I was so surprised and happy when my mom got the email saying I was a finalist,” Cecil said, “I just kept thinking it was such an honor to be recognized for something that has just been such a huge part of my life for these past four years.”

Cecil was nominated for the award by her coach, Katy Cecil, who also happens to be her mother.  A panel of coaches from across the state chose Elena as the Kentucky Student of the Year after reading the nomination. “Elena was truly the perfect candidate for this award.  It recognizes scholastic achievement, service, and speech accomplishments, as well.  She truly had it all,” said Cecil (Katy), “Obviously, I am a little biased, though I have been about every student I have nominated for the award, but Elena was definitely the one student we as a school, and a state, have put forward with the most impressive resume in all three of those categories.”  Elena is the third LaRue County student to be the state recipient of the Student of the Year award; her cousin Ian Mather was the first in 2011, and Brian Anderson received it in 2015.  Only two Kentucky students have ever made it to the finalist stage, and both of them have been from LaRue County – Mather was a finalist for the award in 2011.  Cecil is the first Kentucky student to ever receive the National Award.  “I can’t tell you what this means to me as her coach and her mother.” Cecil (Katy) continued. “She, like Ian and Brian before her, have made history for our school and state, and that is something that can never be taken away from her or us.  Being the first to do something… I mean, who can top that?”

As part of the process, finalists arrived at the National Tournament on Sunday and were interviewed by a panel of nationally recognized coaches from across the country.  They are asked questions about their service and other accomplishments and are evaluated on how they uphold the five tenants of the NSDA Honor Code – respect, leadership, service, integrity, and humility. “I felt like my interview went really well,” Cecil said, “I spent a lot of time talking about Grandma, and we all cried a little.  I talked a lot about being from a small town and knowing that the work we are doing is helping actual people we know, and how service needs to start local.  I felt really confident that I had done a good job, but the other finalists were also really amazing people, so you just never know how it is going to go.  I had done my best, and I was just happy to be in the top six.” She continued, “I can’t tell you what it felt like to have my name announced at the ceremony.  I was so happy, and the first thing I thought about was how proud Grandma would have been if she had been there.”

As the National Student of the Year, Cecil will have some responsibilities throughout the next 12 months.  She will write articles for the NSDA publication The Rostrum discussing service and how to use the skills she has learned through speech to help others find ways to serve in their own communities and she will attend events as a representative of NSDA.  She also received a $1000 scholarship from the Minh A Luong Foundation to use at Western Kentucky University.  “Obviously, we are all thrilled that Elena won this award.” Cecil (Katy) said, “Knowing how hard she has worked these past four years, not just as a student at LCHS, or as a competitor on the speech team, but at serving the Hope Food Pantry because she saw a need and truly wanted to help, well, I can’t think of another student I have ever had that more deserved this recognition.”

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