2018 Nebraska Character Award Winner: Grace Ellis
Congratulations to Grace Ellis of Waverly High School for winning the 2018 Youth Frontiers Character Award! An unprecedented four educators nominated Grace for the Character Award. They commended her for leading by example and using her voice to foster an environment where all can be heard. Learn more about Grace by watching her video and reading the story below.
Grace actively improves her school community. She is a student mentor and president of the speech team. She is also an active member of Family Careers and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and a small-group leader on Youth Frontiers retreats.
“Grace has been given many responsibilities in many different areas for a reason. She is trusted, thoughtful and strategic in her thinking. Overall, she wants what is best for all,” said Ryan Ricenbaw, Principal at Waverly.
A skilled speaker and slam poet, Grace uses her words to express herself and to amplify the voices of others.
Amplifying the voices of others
“When Grace is working with younger members on our slam team, she shows each individual equal respect. She helps them work through the writing process in order to help them reach their fullest potential,” said Kelly Bielenberg, the librarian and slam poetry sponsor at Waverly. “She does the same thing while mentoring. Grace recognizes when another student is not being heard and is confident enough to help redirect other students to show more respect. She feels passionately that every student has an equal voice.”
Grace carries that belief beyond the classroom. Along with her FCCLA partner, Grace is teaching educators throughout the district another way to communicate with their students: sign language. When Ellis and her partner discovered that an elementary student in the district was deaf, they made a plan to ease his transition to middle school and beyond. They want to ensure he’ll be able to express himself — and that he’ll have the chance to be understood.
“Grace’s empathy will always put her in a position of trying to help others when she can,” said Ricenbaw.
Empathy in action
Grace’s empathy stems from experience. “Grace is an outstanding young woman, but she is not without personal struggle,” said Bielenberg. What sets Grace apart is how she responds in times of difficulty — using her challenges to fuel her poetry and to elevate others.
“Her kindness, courage and respect are evident. Even when she is personally disappointed by something, she doesn’t let it get in her way of supporting others,” said Jodie Morgenson, the language arts teacher and head speech coach at Waverly. “Her positive attitude is contagious. She consistently seeks self-improvement and in doing so, betters our culture.”
“Grace pushes the limits so students rise up around her,” said Mallory Gregory, the family and consumer sciences and special education teacher at Waverly.
The Character Award is a chance for Youth Frontiers to honor students of character in their community. Special thanks to Mike and Jan Brown for sponsoring a $2,500 college scholarship for Grace.