Facing her biggest audience to date, twelfth-grader Grace Kim spoke at the live-streamed Sarasota County school board meeting Nov. 17. Proudly opening for her was Pine View Principal Dr. Stephen Covert, lauding Kim for not only her academic and extracurricular achievements but her outstanding perseverance as a first-generation Korean-American student. It was for these reasons that Kim was nominated for the Sarasota County Academic Presidential Scholar Award, established in 1964 to recognize top high school seniors.
Kim had initially discovered that she was nominated for this award the Friday before, after receiving a mysterious email from Maggie Adler, Covert’s administrative assistant. The email had said that Kim was being called to attend a personal zoom meeting with the principal.
“I was in Chinese class when I had gotten an email from Mrs. Adler, that said, ‘You have a meeting with Dr. Covert in 10 minutes.’ And I was so scared, I was like, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ I was freaking out,” Kim said.
Nevertheless, Covert revealed to Kim the good news, requesting her to create a speech for the upcoming school board meeting on the following Tuesday. On the day of the school board meeting, Covert highlighted the academic achievements that define Kim as an “emergent scholar.”
These achievements include Kim upholding a weighted GPA of 5.0 in spite of a rigorous Advanced Placement course schedule, with Kim having “taken over 15 college-level courses already.” In addition, Covert recognized her extracurricular involvement, including her roles as the class historian, president of Pine View’s Speech and Debate club, a former member of the National USA Debate Development Team, and a current integral member of PeaceJam.
Making known her scholarly prowess, Covert emphasized within his speech that Kim was still able to achieve such excellence despite her challenging circumstances.
“Raised by immigrant parents, her father toiled as a night shift janitorial manager, until a year ago when he suffered a massive stroke. Prior to and coincidental to this event, Grace’s mother has been battling cancer,” Covert said, explaining her situation.
After Covert had spoken highly of Kim in front of the board, Kim approached the podium with a humble stance. Instead of discussing her own experience as a student, Kim decided to speak on behalf of her parents’ own struggles.
“I really wanted to start with talking more about my parents, because I think they deserve a lot more recognition. My mom was pretty much born in a really small village in South Korea in the mountains, where she literally had to walk an hour every single day just to get to elementary school. And, my dad was born in an equally tiny fishing village in South Korea, where he was raised by a single mom because his dad passed when he was really young. And despite these circumstances, my parents have always said that no sacrifice is too big for me and my brother, James,” Kim said.
The Pine View Speech and Debate club sponsor and teacher for specific learning disabilities, James Froelich, also expressed excitement and pride for Kim when he was notified of her award by Covert.
“From early on, Grace has been an emblematic source of leadership in [Pine View Speech and Debate]. She has been active in fundraising efforts; she continually sets the bar extremely high for her peers through her participation and success at district and national competitions; her legacy in PVSD will be marked by her tireless work in forming a World Schools debate team that engages extremely motivated, younger members of the team,” Froelich said in an email.
When asked about how Kim’s personality ties into the Presidential Scholar Award, Froelich specifically elaborated that Kim “could easily have her name attached to the award.”
“I have known Grace now for five years, as a highly creative and motivated student, a fierce and fair competitor, and a natural leader of her peers,” Froelich said.
In the words of Covert, as he had specified over email, Kim possesses “Tenacity, brilliance, humility, inquisitiveness, grit, and the ability to see the interrelatedness among life’s many disciplines,” qualities that all entitle Kim to this award.
“She has so much to be proud of – overcoming so many challenges while still pushing herself to achieve and help her parents at the same time. It truly is the real American story of having a dream, and working hard to make it come alive,” Covert said.