Bulloch County students and teachers gathered for the annual STAR Student/Teacher Banquet at the Holiday Inn in Statesboro Tuesday, on an evening in which the program's brightest star was shining more than 1,000 miles away.
Colby Parker, the student representing Statesboro High School, was announced the Bulloch County representative for the STAR program's regional competition - as the crowd of fellow students, teachers and members of the academic community applauded, a message was delivered that Parker could not be in attendance, because the Statesboro senior had flown to Ann Arbor, Mich., to audition for a university marching band.
"It is with our pleasure and honor, to introduce our 2011 Bulloch County STAR Student, Colby Parker from Statesboro High School," proclaimed Todd Manack, Chairman of Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, looking at the only table missing its student.
Statesboro High principal Marty Waters, and Parker's selected STAR Teacher, Holly Lloyd, spoke on the behalf of the standout student.
"It is my honor to stand up here for [Parker] tonight and it is important to tell you that he and his mother are on a plane to the University of Michigan. He has been selected to audition for a tuba scholarship," said Waters. "Colby is a very unique individual. He is first in everything he sets out to do and a well-rounded young man."
"It was amazing for me to watch Colby excel year after year," said Lloyd, who was Parker's band instructor throughout his time at Langston Chapel Middle School. "He will do wonderful, wonderful things. I know, one day, we'll read a lot about Colby Parker. He could have been a physicist, but he'll probably have the headline: ‘First tuba player from Statesboro joins New York Philharmonic.'"
"I know he'll have a bright future. I am humbled and honored to have been in his presence," she said.
Parker was one of five students recognized for academic achievements Tuesday, along with the five teachers chosen by their respective "Stars."
Bulloch County STARS were: Parker and Lloyd, representing Statesboro High School; Southeast Bulloch student Johan Warburton and his teacher Kenneth Weidner - Weidner, a band instructor at Wayne County High School, taught Warburton for six years before the student moved to Bulloch County; Brandon Walker and teacher, Deborah Carico from Bulloch Academy; Jasmyn Mikel and her instructor Pat Tankersley from Portal High School, and Clay Oldham of Trinity Christian School, along with his teacher Sandy Kent.
To be honored as a STAR student, each high school senior must record the highest score on the three-part-SAT exam and be among the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average, according to Charles Webb, Chair of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber's Education Committee.
"This is the 53rd year the STAR program has been in place and we are honored here in Bulloch County to recognize the five star students and teachers," said Webb. "We appreciate everything our schools and teachers do. We are blessed to have so many outstanding students and instructors in this county."
Following dinner, and prior to awards being given out, Dr. Brooks Keel, president of Georgia Southern University, delivered a message to the attending students.
Keel congratulated STAR award recipients, praising the job done by both students and teachers, before addressing the students about their future and encouraging them to continue a pursuit of learning.
"Students, you represent the future of the United States," said Keel. "And education is the key. You'll need to become more technologically savvy, more global in your perspective and more diverse in your personal experiences. College provides you with these opportunities and provides you with a chance to become more competitive in a global, technological marketplace."
Following Keel's address, Kevin Judy, vice chair of the Education Committee, announced each award recipient, presenting the students with certificates and allowing each STAR an opportunity to speak to the accomplishment.
Parker was the first announced; Waters and Lloyd lauded his academic efforts.
"He is very humble and it is a privilege to work with Colby," said Waters, who listed many of Parker's accomplishments.
"It's an honor," said Lloyd. "Colby is as fine as they come. He is always stretching the boundaries of academic achievement."
Southeast Bulloch High School's Warburton, and his teacher, were next.
Warburton, who moved to Bulloch County for his senior year, acknowledged a limited capacity for public speaking and used the opportunity to thank his teacher and family.
"This is a bit of new experience for me. I'm not much of the public speaking type," he said. "I would like to thank my mom, sisters and stepdad. They have always been supportive of what I've done."
"Mr. Weidner was there when I started playing horn in middle school and then, when I went to high school, he became the assistant band director," said Warburton. "He has always pushed me."
"Anything this boy sets his mind to, he can accomplish," said Weidner of his student. "He is smart and an incredible student. I have no doubt, wherever he goes with music or academics, that he'll be successful."
Portal's Jasmyn Mikel also placed the onus for her achievements on family and a teacher.
"I would not be here tonight if not for my mother and grandmother. They have always stressed the importance of education," she said. "And I admire my star teacher so much. She is a wonderful person. [Tankersley] has always challenged me, and pushed me to work harder. For that, I will always be thankful to her."
"Jasmyn is quite a student," said Tankersley. "She will walk in classroom and always sit in the third row, front seat; for three years, third row, front seat."
"Jasmyn is one of the most focused young women I have ever had the opportunity to teach," she said.
Mikel plans to attend Georgia Southern University and eventually garner a job in the medical field, according to Tankersley.
Bulloch Academy's Walker spoke about his time participating in sports and as a tutor while in high school, and announced intentions to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.
"He is going to be somebody," said his STAR teacher Carico. "He is an incredible young man and I am honored to be here."
Rounding out the group, Trinity's Clay Christian said he plans to pursue a degree in Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia or the University of South Carolina - He was accepted to USC earlier in the day.
"I have been very proud to teach Clay and watch him grow," said Kent. "He has excelled in classes and is a natural leader. We are all very proud of him."
"He is a wonderful young man," she said. "I cannot wait to find out what he does with his future."
It was not until each winner had addressed the crowd, when Parker was officially announced the regional representative for the STAR program.
Said Waters, "I will make sure Colby is notified tonight of his honor."
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454