WATERLOO REGION

A dozen local students have won Canada Millennium scholarships for their outstanding achievements, two of them snagging a national award worth $25,000.

"It's kind of overwhelming," said top prize winner Sarah McCuaig. "At first I was in shock."

Tristan Neill of Elmira District Secondary School also won a national prize.

"I didn't really know what to think," echoed Neill. "I was surprised and honoured."

McCuaig met other students who applied for millennium scholarships and was impressed by their achievements -- so much so she didn't think she had a shot at winning.

"It's absolutely amazing to see the calibre of work so many young people are doing," said the Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School student.

This fall she will be studying science at McGill University, where she also won a scholarship worth $10,000 a year. She's interested in a career that involves clinical research.

What put McCuaig over the top?

"I think it's because I put a lot of passion into everything I do," said the 19-year-old.

McCuaig organized a fundraiser for the KidsAbility Centre to buy a device to help non-verbal children communicate. She served for years on student council, this year as the co-prime minister, and helped organize Friday evening games and activities for children at a local elementary school.

Her science fair project on antibacterial toothpaste won a bronze medal at a Canada-wide science fair, earning a chance to represent Canada at a youth science forum in Australia.

Neill organized a campaign to get students to vote in the recent provincial and federal elections, including hosting all-candidates meetings at the school.

"For our democracy to work properly, we need people to vote," he said. "We need to instil that voting habit in the young voters."

Neill helped with a fundraiser to purchase bicycles for women in Kenya. He plays the piano, heads his school's debate team and has a first-degree black belt in karate.

"I think I've always been trying to develop myself as a person," said the 18-year-old.

Neill will attend the University of Western Ontario in the fall and participate in the scholar's electives program, which offers flexibility in course selection and allows students to conduct research in their first year.

He was also awarded a $24,000 President's Scholarship from Western.

Two students won provincial awards worth $20,500. Nicole Moffett and Stephanie Van Pelt both attend Waterloo Collegiate Institute.

Moffett has been a leader in the school's Relay for Life cancer fundraiser for years, served on the student council in various positions, and is now co-president while also being president of the junior leadership club. She is an avid hockey player and worked summers as an Ontario ranger.

Van Pelt is human relations controller on student council this year, and was previously environment controller. She volunteers outside school with Neruda Productions, a group that offers opportunities to new immigrants who are professional dancers, artists and musicians.

Here are the local award winners who each get $4,500 scholarships:

Enaam Chleilat -- At Glenview Park Secondary School in Cambridge, she founded a character development club for youth, serves as president of Junior Achievers, and promotes participation in sports as athletic representative. Enaam has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Farid Garas -- Garas founded a lunchtime peer tutoring program at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, where he also started a French club, competes on the Reach for the Top team, and captains the swim team. He volunteers at a local medical centre.

Julia Gogoleva -- A Waterloo Collegiate Institute student, she helped found a human rights club. She's involved in a group to end youth violence and a volunteer with the Kitchener Youth Action Council. Gogoleva is also interested in filmmaking, playing piano and composing.

Patrick Hannigan -- Hannigan is co-prime minister of the student council at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School, where he has also been involved in drama, the business club, the tech team, and sports, including starting the ultimate Frisbee team. He's an experienced webmaster.

Mehdiya Hudda -- The student at Huron Heights Secondary School in Kitchener travelled to Iran to help with relief efforts after a 2003 earthquake, organized an evening for women and children in her Islamic community, volunteers as a Sunday school teacher, tutors and is a member of her school's outreach club.

Joanne Toporowski -- At Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute, Toporowski founded the school newspaper and serves as charities co-ordinator and head of special events and student council representative and treasurer. She has been volunteering since she was nine, is head choreographer and organist at her church and teaches piano.

Jamie Rooney -- Waterloo Collegiate Institute

Daniel Burd -- Waterloo Collegiate Institute

The awards recognize university- and college-bound students for their achievements not just academically, but also in leadership, innovation and community service. Five of the 12 local awards went to Waterloo Collegiate Institute students.

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