Last year's Miss Pine River Scholarship Pageant was a musical one with two candidates singing songs, one performing on the violin and another playing and singing an original work. The last of these, Sarah Carey, was named Miss Congeniality.

Music is a big part of Carey's life.

“I really enjoy playing guitar in my free time,” Carey said.

She's also part of the Pine River-Backus School Choir, and for the past four years in the choir's solo ensemble she's earned recognition at the state level. Music is a huge part of her character.

“Music is like the biggest gift God gave me,” said Carey, a PR-B senior. “It just makes me feel so happy when I go through hard times or am sad, happy or angry or feeling anything. Music just always makes me feel so good.”

Once again Carey was recognized, now as one of Sourcewell's annual Students of Character. This award is to celebrate students for perseverance and dedication in community, school and to fellow students. Each year two Students of Character are selected from school districts in Sourcewell's region, including Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes, and recipients receive scholarships.

“The first year I heard about it was last year when Madison Abraham got nominated for it,” Carey said. “I think she deserved it.”

Like many students before her, it came as a surprise when she was told she was nominated.

“It really made me feel happy,” Carey said. “I really didn't think I would ever get an award like this. I guess I'm just really honored.”

Students like Carey are selected from among their classmates with several criteria in mind. One trait teachers look for when nominating students is their ability to overcome challenges and still earn good grades in school. In Carey's case, the challenge was her mother's health.

“My mom has a lot of medical problems that tend to keep her in the hospital for a long time,” Carey said. “And recently, this year she was in the hospital for a week and I didn't really go to school because she was really sick, but I still did my homework. I would go to school and check in with my teachers.”

Her teachers noticed, especially Kristin Lindholm, the teacher Carey may be closest to.

“She was always there for me,” Carey said. “Kristin Lindholm and I are pretty close. I've talked to her a lot about life and stuff. She usually helps me.”

Lindholm's nomination of Carey read:

“Wherever Sarah Carey is - she brightens the room. Her heart for all things living nearly takes my breath away. She is one of the most caring and genuine students I have encountered in all my years of teaching. What makes her stand out as a true student of character is her ability to persevere, even when life is really hard. She is a model of humility, grace, and empathy - the type of person I wish all students could have for a friend. Sarah is an amazing human being and makes this world a better place.”

Traditionally, Students of Character are celebrated at a large awards banquet each April. However, because of social distancing measures related to the COVID-19 situation, this year students were celebrated virtually Wednesday, April 15.

Carey plans to take classes in music and therapy at Central Lakes College, and once she finishes her associate of arts degree there she plans to get a music therapy degree at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.

Area Students of Character

Pine River-Backus: Sarah Carey and Tyanna LeFebvre

Pequot Lakes: Lola Rysavy and Thomas Taylor

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.