Many would describe their senior year of high school as being one of the best years of their life, but tragedy in the fall of 2017 left a negative mark for Pine River-Backus senior Taylor Vredenburg, of Backus.

"I lost my boyfriend in a car accident," Vredenburg said. "I guess I just put that aside here at school and did what I was supposed to do to keep a positive attitude with it all."

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Vredenburg buried herself in schoolwork and extracurricular activities, finding distraction and relief in the Business Professionals of America, Students Taking a Renewed Interest in Education (STRIVE) and student mentoring alongside her schoolwork. Vredenburg was chosen as the school's SnoDaze queen in February.

"After all of it happened, school was the only thing that kept my mind off of it," she said.

Vredenburg said this was the first year she became so involved in school and extracurricular activities. Her struggles and personal growth were both being noticed by her classmates and teachers, including teacher Kyle Bergem, who nominated her for the annual National Joint Powers Alliance Rising Star award.

His nomination read, "Shortly after the school year began, Taylor suffered the loss of her boyfriend to a tragic car accident. Taylor's focus on her education and her positive outlook prevailed through her grieving process. Taylor continued to take the steps needed to make plans for her post-secondary education. Taylor has a goal to pursue a career in education. Taylor's involvement in school activities has come late in her high school years. However, this year Taylor has grown from her experiences with mentoring other students, being an active member of the STRIVE program, and qualifying for a team event at the Regional Business Professionals of America competition where Taylor's team qualified to advance to the state level. Taylor can be a quiet student in class, but she pushes herself to do her best."

Vredenburg was selected as one of PR-B's two Rising Stars this year. The program recognizes students who overcome struggles and may not receive much academic or athletic recognition even though they may deserve it; they are students that NJPA executive Director Chad Coauette said "exemplify what it is to make a difference by providing quiet leadership."

For the honor, Vredenburg was invited to the annual banquet and awarded a $500 scholarship to Central Lakes College, where she plans to seek an Associates Degree before transferring to Bemidji State University to pursue a degree in pre-primary education.

"It was really uplifting," Vredenburg said. "I thought it would be more sad since it was about bad things happening. It was uplifting and motivating."

Vredenburg said the award helped her feel supported, celebrated and encouraged.

Vredenburg will use the scholarships she received from the Rising Star Award and STRIVE to pursue her goal of working with children at a time she sees as immensely important to development.

"I grew up with a lot of kids," Vredenburg said. "My mom, aunt and grandma owned a daycare so I've always been around kids. I have a lot of kids, little sisters, nieces and nephews and cousins. I just think it is a good age to shape kids and guide them toward the future."