Five seniors were recently inducted into the LSMSA Hall of Fame during the Senior Recognition Ceremony held Friday, May 14, in Prather Coliseum located on the campus of Northwestern State University.
Each year, a committee comprised of faculty and staff from the Living and Learning Community selects seniors for the Robert A. Alost Award. Selection into the Hall of Fame is the highest honor a student can be awarded and is based on exceptional performance in academics, residential life, extracurricular activities and service to the school.
The honor is named for the school’s founder Dr. Robert A. Alost, who served as director for four years before moving to NSU as president. Each student’s name will appear on a plaque that currently hangs in the high school and a group photo will be added to the current Hall of Fame display also featured in the high school.
“This award is named for Dr. Alost because of his vision and dedication those first crucial years in the history of LSMSA,” said Dr. Steve Horton, executive director.
The inductees are Paige Delsa of Mandeville, Victoria McMillan of St. Francisville, Andrea Chen of Natchitoches, Allison Johnson of Lake Charles, and Vani Pandian of Mandeville.
Paige Delsa has about as steady and direct a gaze as anyone you’re ever going to meet. She takes herself and the world seriously. Don’t ask her about the campus food options; she’s got some strong opinions about that. But she knows what makes her happy. During her first year at the Louisiana School, she sometimes wore a shirt that she reserved for days that she considered special. The shirt had baboons on it.
She’s small in stature, but incredibly strong. In fact, she’s a successful competitive power-lifter.
Last year, before the apocalypse, on her own, she started an internal science newsletter, monthly featuring the science competitions, updates, and highlights at the school. The newsletter also featured alum interviews, so that current students could read about the backgrounds and jobs of those involved in science careers.
She is a Writing Center Tutor, an exceedingly helpful campus position. In addition, she is the president of the SGO Executive Committee. In that role, she has worked incredibly hard to help the different classes stay connected to each other, and oversaw several projects designed to ease transitions between the spring cohorts. For example, Blue cohort members made sure that every incoming Gold cohort student had a note of welcome and advice in their room upon arrival.
“It’s been a very tough year to be a student leader, but this student is persistent, and she kept the ‘campus connection’ plans moving the whole time,” said Horton as he introduced Delsa. “She’s leaving the SGO in a good position to carry that positivity forward.”
With a 4.0 this student could easily thrive in college in Humanities, science, or math. She’s headed into physics, and she’ll undoubtedly set her corner of the world on fire. When you see her photo in the frame on The Wall, you’ll just shrug and say, “well, yeah, of course she’s on The Wall.”
During their time here at LSMSA, Victoria McMillan hasn’t just “excelled in her field,” but rather excelled in EVERY field. Her transcript doesn’t only include the standard wide array of courses, but some of the most challenging the Louisiana School has to offer in each discipline, from Medieval History to Modern Genetics and Vector Calculus. Once graduated, she will have earned one-and-a-half times the required credits in math, almost double the requirements in science, and another 4.5 credits in computer science and engineering courses.
And McMillan didn’t just take some of the school’s toughest classes, but absolutely thrived in them. Not only did she earn a 4.0 during her time, but often had the highest grade in each individual class. In fact, she’s done so well in every discipline that she’s been asked to work for a math faculty member AND as a writing center tutor.
Outside of the academic arena, this student has shone as an ambassador for the school, leading tours, talking to parents, and offering to exchange emails and texts with prospective students in her free time. She’s even been a leader in the athletic program, from being the starting libero on the volleyball team as a sophomore, all the way to leading the Blue team to a victory in Senior SLAMT while playing five different sports!
“One of our favorite things about being a part of the Louisiana School is how humbling it can be to interact with a genuinely remarkable young person, and I truly can’t think of a better way to describe this award recipient than exactly that: genuinely remarkable,” said Horton. “Honestly, if we had to find a flaw with this student (aside from helping Coach Dale set up the gym), it would probably be her inability to say no; she’s always willing to help a teacher or a friend in need in any way that she can."
Fred Astaire once said “Do it big, do it right, and do it with style.” Andrea Chen definitely fits that description as she entered LSMSA as a sophomore in 2018 and began to get involved immediately. She began taking dance classes and has continued each semester. She has been a member of Dance Ensemble for the last two years along with taking numerous other dance electives and has completed the Artist-In-Training program.
She has been active in Math, taking upper level courses like AP Calculus and Differential Equations, and has helped with the LSMSA junior high math contest. She was very interested in science and took many upper level courses such as Human Anatomy and Physiology, Principles of Genetics, and Calculus-based Physics, as well as completing the FSP program and her distinction research on algal growth.
Allison Johnson truly embraced STEAM over STEM while at LSMSA. On the Arts side of LSMSA, she participated in chorale and private voice every semester and also took two and a half years of music theory. Hours of practice and diligent attention to detail earned her multiple superior ratings at solo/small ensemble assessments, and culminated in an entertaining and enjoyable senior recital.
Starting in trig and precalc as a sophomore; Calc I, II, and III as well as topology and modern algebra, and multiple computer science classes followed.
“The Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts – more often than not students lean either toward the Math Science side or to the Arts side of the school,” Horton shared with the crowd. “Rarely do we get a student who excels at both sides of the LSMSA moniker while they are here.”
Not surprisingly, Johnson was Vice President and then president of the LSMSA math club during which time the founding and running of a math tutoring group was organized. And because all that wasn’t keeping things busy enough, she coached the Natchitoches Magnet School Math Counts Team to success in competition at the regional and state levels.
“Always cheerful, always able to take some loving math nerd teasing, she and her Doc Martins will be sorely missed on the second floor of the MAB,” Horton added.
The name of the Louisiana School implies a certain well-roundedness; yes, a student may think in terms of being a “Science kid,” or an “Arts kid,” but the fact of the matter is the curriculum demands that students succeed in all areas. Vani Pandian is an excellent example of this; even during the last senior semester, sometimes considered the easiest of a six-semester tenure, she took Vector Calculus, Inorganic Chemistry, Creative Writing, Women’s History, and Music Composition.
In Pandian’s case, though, “well-rounded” does not just apply to academics. She also resurrected student organizations, learned a thing or two about playing hoops, and even composed a four-movement piece for piano AND another piece for the flute! In all of these areas, she has managed to succeed, often through sheer force of will. For instance, Coach Dale Clingerman shared that Vani had little to no experience on the basketball court when she arrived. However, once shown a move or two, she practiced on her own time, often alone, determined to do her best for the team. She even attended all the zoom meetings last fall! For Vani, it’s all about the Team, always, and she will do her personal best, always, for the larger good!
Her exceptional dedication doesn’t end with an exam or scoring a final point; in fact, that’s just one aspect of her many talents! Among her talents; she has been dedicated to Student Government (as long as there are no spiders involved!) and has participated in several clubs and has provided much needed direction to one of those clubs in particular, even last fall when meetings and programs had to be conducted on Zoom. In fact, the club sponsor notes that the Zoom program was actually one of the most interesting and effective meetings the club had ever held!
This might lead one to imagine a forthright, maybe mildly bossy person, one who, since they have all the ideas, expects others to do the work. But one would be wrong to think this. Vani continued to do the hard work, and was always willing to adapt or change plans or even give up a prepared presentation of three or four page of notes on a topic when the class detoured from the assignment! She is genuinely kind, and genuinely polite. She speaks for those who may not have the courage to speak up for themselves; furthermore, any request, whether met by the person asked—or not—always receives a sincere thank you, and has single-handedly revived the concept of the written thank you note! Her refreshing gratefulness extends to her multi-generational home as well, and one of her professors recalls that she spent an entire summer reading a book with her grandmother, written by an author from the grandmother’s home country, all the time turning the discussion to the grandmother’s experience; in other words, Vani is someone who doesn’t just talk to others; she genuinely talks with others…
“This student has gone far above and beyond what we expect from all our Eagles, that is, academic achievement, leadership, and athletic skill,” said Horton. “In fact, as one of her professors noted, ‘reading this Eagle’s exams makes me glad to be alive.’ I think all of her teachers could and would say this, and I think of all of her friends and family feel the same way.”