“Our Best & Brightest”

It’s hard to imagine what the past few months have been like for our local high school seniors. Thanks to a global pandemic, their high school careers have ended abruptly. They will never experience many of the things that have made lasting memories for nearly every generation of students before them. Their classrooms were emptied, their ball fields fell silent, and their daily campus rituals were cancelled. The final Spring of their adolescence was not spent laughing and learning with friends, but instead sheltered at home with their families, searching for what to do next.

While that reality has sunken in for the students, those who serve our community schools have been working diligently to provide some sort of closure both for seniors and the thousands of other rising students. The teachers, school workers, bus drivers, and certainly administrators have all been disrupted too. With so many challenges facing the school system and other educational outlets, our entire community has had to come together to help.

Here at the Chamber, one of the ways that we support our local education system is through the annual Best & Brightest Awards. Established in 2006, this program is produced by the talented Laura Rogers through our World Class Schools initiative. Laura’s passion for rewarding the excellence of our local students is unmatched. For the last 15 years, she has organized the Best & Brightest Awards as a celebration of the unique achievements of Leon County high school seniors. This year that effort has never been more important.

The Best & Brightest Awards are more than just a trophy. Thanks to the support of presenting sponsor Envision Credit Union and companies like Sachs Media Group and the Tallahassee Democrat, nearly $800,000 in scholarships have been awarded to local students since the program began. The yearly event has become an important way for our community to recognize many of the most talented students who are graduating from our local schools.

With the normal pomp and circumstance of the awards ceremony canceled due to shelter-in-place restrictions, Laura and her team of volunteers began thinking of how they could create a viable alternative for showcasing student achievement. Thanks to the creative thinking of supporters like Ron Sachs and Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna, plans for a virtual ceremony began to emerge. Despite not being able to salute the finalists and winners in person, Laura and our World Class Schools partners were able to bring some much-needed joy and recognition to many of the seniors who have been impacted by the pandemic.

Earlier this week, the 2020 Best & Brightest Awards were held via a live broadcast from the Leon County Schools Aquilina Howell Building. Just like the usual ceremony, Laura Rogers shined on stage as she spoke to the individual achievements of over 150 scholarship winners. With over 11,000 people tuning in to watch the award winners being announced, hosting a virtual Best and Brightest ceremony was clearly the right move.

As Laura highlighted in her comments at the recorded ceremony, there were hundreds of family members gathered both together and through technology across our community to watch the winners be announced. Despite missing out on so many of the occasions associated with their senior year, at least for a few hours, those high achieving and inspiring young students were able to experience some of the recognition they deserve.

The Best & Brightest Awards matter for a whole host of reasons, but we believe that among the most important is how our business community steps up to support our local students. The scholarships that are presented to deserving achievers each year are representative of the hope our local businesses have for the future of our hometown. Those rewards are truly an investment in the next generation of leaders and doers. What moments like this teach us is that we must continue to make that investment so that when unpredictable events come our way again, we will indeed have the best and brightest minds available to help steer our community.
The Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce is proud to support Leon County Schools and all of our local educational organizations. Good luck to all of the graduating seniors and best wishes of a bright and successful future!