Grace Carter

Grace Carter, a 2020 graduate of Joplin High School, has been awarded the Congressional Award Gold Medal, the most prestigious award that Congress bestows upon a youth civilian.

She joined more than 450 young adults from across the country last weekend for a virtual awards ceremony that featured remarks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders. The awards are given annually to student leaders who have “committed themselves to years of goal setting and community engagement,” program leaders said.

“I am just very grateful” to have received the award, Carter said. “I think it’s a little-known award, but it’s something that’s super cool for high school students who want that accountability setting their goals.”

As a gold medalist, Carter accumulated more than 800 hours over the span of at least two years in public service, personal development and physical fitness, in addition to planning and going on an “exploration,” as required by program guidelines.

For public service, Carter spent 400 hours volunteering at George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond and the Joplin Public Library. For personal development, she led Bible studies at her church, Forest Park Baptist Church.

For fitness, she ran cross country at College Heights Christian School, where she attended before transferring to Joplin High School for her senior year, and also took ballet classes at Karen’s Dance Studio in Joplin. And for her “exploration,” she and her brother took a road trip to retrace the Trail of Tears in honor of their family’s Cherokee heritage.

As her mentor, Carter selected Patty Kruse, her counselor at College Heights. Once she had fulfilled the criteria of the award, she sent in her application and materials. She was notified of the win last fall, and an awards ceremony that was planned for this past summer was delayed and eventually made virtual because of the pandemic.

Carter said she is thrilled to have been awarded the gold medal.

“I made so many amazing connections with people who were helping me through it,” she said. “It was a really great way to keep myself accountable through high school with my goals.’’

She is now enrolled in her first semester at Stanford University, although she remains at home in Joplin and is taking virtual courses. She also is trying to explore all that Stanford offers through classes, student clubs and more.

“I’m keeping myself open to where I want to go next,” she said.

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Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.