“I was thrown into a classroom where nobody could understand me, and students would bully me for not knowing the language,” Gerig said. “I would ask other Spanish speakers for help, and they would trick me into saying things to embarrass myself.”
Gerig, now a senior at Inlet Grove High School and one of 54 students honored during the 2022 Pathfinder Scholarship Awards, said that family, faith and self-determination fueled his journey.
He earned straight A’s, climbed to the top of his class and recently earned a spot at the prestigious Harvard College.
But it was Gerig’s volunteer work — more than 1,300 hours dedicated to tutoring students, helping at school events and passing out food to local families — that secured his position as the Community Involvement winner during this year’s Pathfinder awards.
The awards, sponsored by The Palm Beach Post, entered their 39th year and gave $3,000 to each of the first-place winners across 18 categories, honoring the high school seniors for their achievements inside and outside the classroom.
“The Pathfinders Scholarship Awards are a tradition unlike any other in Palm Beach and Martin counties, providing an opportunity to put our hardworking high school students center stage,” said Post Executive Editor Rick Christie.
“It is the most significant showing by our communities how much we value education, and the importance of investing in our students,” he said.
“The Palm Beach Post is proud to have been a part of this great tradition from the beginning, and looks forward to continuing that support.”
Aidan Locke, a student at Jensen Beach High School and this year’s winner in the Reach for Excellence category, turned her challenges into opportunities.
Locke has dyslexia, a learning disability that can make reading difficult. But that struggle motivated Locke to work harder and to advocate not only for herself, but also for the many students who face similar obstacles.
She excelled in school, shared her story at national conferences, pushed for new dyslexia legislation and worked toward her ultimate goal of becoming a special education teacher.
“I cannot think of a more noble course of study than to give back to other students that may find themselves struggling and feeling discouraged and disheartened,” teacher Amanda Cooke said in a letter of recommendation for Locke.
Locke was among the many Pathfinder winners who aspired to make a positive difference in the world.
Alexander Stone, who ranked No. 1 in a class of more than 500 students at West Boca Raton High School, plans to major in aerospace engineering.
Stone, this year’s winner in the Mathematics category, said he hoped to advance technology for everyday travel, cargo transportation or space voyages.
And this year’s winner in the Foreign Language category, Belina Bubenik Parry, is using her gift to pursue a career in diplomacy and international relations.
The Olympic Heights High School senior can speak, write and read in English, Czech, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.
Parry — who was also practicing Mandarin, Thai and American Sign Language — said her mother inspired a love of language in the family, along with a spirit of sensitivity and cultural awareness.
Now, Parry has vowed to honor those lessons after her mother’s passing in September.
“Although I’ll never be able to repay my mom for all the wonderful things she did for me, I know I can still make her proud,” she said in her award submission. “That will be her legacy; I will be her legacy.”
This year’s Pathfinder Scholarship Awards garnered hundreds of nominations and honored students with tens of thousands of dollars.
Along with the top prizes, second-and third-place winners earned $2,000 and $1,500, respectively, adding to more than $3.4 million awarded over the event’s history.
“We are proud to recognize the hard work and tenacity shown by the 534 Pathfinder nominees from Palm Beach and Martin County high schools,” said Janie Fogt, president of the Pathfinders’ Board of Directors. “We are able to give 54 scholarships, but if we could, we would love to give so many more.”