Making Their Own Gold Star: High School Senior Volunteers Honored

At some point during the annual presentation of the President’s Volunteer Service Awards to Belmont High School seniors, there is a moment where Alice Melnikoff will get a little, let’s say, “verklempt.”

Melnikoff told the students, parents and educators in the audience at the Chenery Middle School during the ceremony held Tuesday, May 13, of her favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “We make a living of what we get; but we make a life by what we give.”

“This is it,” said Melnikoff of when she would have to pause for a moment, as she looked towards the 12th graders sitting in the first two rows of the auditorium, each who gave more than 100 volunteer hours in the past 12 months.

“You have already demonstrated that you are building a life that is rich and fulfilling in part because of service to which you were committed,” said Melnikoff.

And no one would begrudge Melnikoff a time to feel a bit emotional towards those she mentored during the past four years in giving of themselves to the benefit of others. And while the students will be receiving a certificate and pin as well as a letter bearing the signature of President Obama, the time spent improving the society in which they live will be their lasting memorial, said Melnikoff.


While the term community was used throughout the ceremony, Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston also spoke of the word “philanthropy” which is mostly used describing money given to others. But its root meaning is “love of humankind.”

“The richest form of philanthropy doesn’t come from the money that you give … but from the service you give one another; the care that we use to support each other,” said Kingston.

Speaking for the recipients, Amy Zhang, a co-president of the Belmontian Club, said, “Service is as self-serving as it is wonderful, as you undoubtedly gain something, an equal reaction whether you are volunteering with kids or raising money for cancer.”

“Community service can not be quantified nor can its effects be measured and analyzed. It can not be logged in hours or dollars, it doesn’t always come with a happy ending. To me, community service is about … acting to set the world in a positive direction,” said the 18 year old graduating senior who will be matriculating this fall at Harvard College.

The award winners included:

Bronze award (100 to 174 hours)

  • Victoria Beecroft; Founding mother of the Water Drop Club which supports an orphanage in Madagascar where she also volunteered.
  • Emily Burke; Wellington Aftercare
  • Joseph Thiel; Benton Library
  • Cindy and Jason Yu; research in cell biology and cancer

Silver award (175 to 249 hours)

  • Raina Crawford; orienteering group and the high school library.
  • Juliette and Sarah Dankens; the other founding mothers of the Water Drop Club who both volunteered at the orphanage in Madagascar.
  • Arden Fereshetian; Working in the lab, on a website and research at a cancer research institute.
  • Virginia Hardy; Community-based work in Nicaragua.
  • Sam Kerans; Coaching basketball and tutoring.
  • Amiee Lin; Working with children from broken homes in Taiwan.
  • Andrew Logan; Trail work for the Appalachian Mountain Club and at Belmont’s Habitat.
  • Lucy Martirosyan; Belmont Acres farm.
  • Tyler Papciak; The Bristol Lodge soup kitchen.
  • Sarah Ramsey; Coaching basketball and cancer fundraising.
  • Justin Rogers: Belmont Acres farm.
  • Peter Staub: Red Cross Food Pantry.
  • Andrew Strawbridge: Worked on a gubernatorial campaign.

Gold award (more than 250 hours) 

  • Talin Tahajian: Non-profit literary journal.
  • Haruka Uchida; Research in a psychology lab.
  • Rowan Wu; Samariteens.

These six seniors have earned presidential awards each of the four years they attended Belmont High School:

  • Anna Hillel; a bronze this year for working in Birmingham, Alabama painting houses.
  • Keith Burns; gold, Cardiovascular research.
  • Gabe Faber; gold, Making soccer available to young people in Boston.
  • Tess Smichenko; gold, Working with children and adults with special needs in Belmont, Vermont and Guatemala.
  • David Sullivan; gold, Working on immigration issues in US Sen. Warren’s office.
  • Amy Zhang; gold, on several service issues including Wellington Aftercare and fundraising to fight breast cancer.
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