SJR Column: Lincoln Academy, November 2019
Many Illinois residents are familiar with the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, a non-profit organization created more than 50 years ago to honor distinguished Illinoisans. Since its founding, the Academy has recognized over 300 sons and daughters of Illinois, including a number of Springfield citizens, with the prestigious “Order of Lincoln.”
An equally important recognition bestowed by the Academy is the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement award – presented each year to one outstanding graduating senior from each four-year college, university and community college in the state.
According to Julie Kellner, Executive Director of the Lincoln Academy and a UIS graduate, the Student Laureate award is “a way for the State of Illinois to recognize outstanding student achievement, civic engagement and leadership.”
“The students we recognize have worked so hard their entire lives,” says Julie. “The Student Laureate award is a way for the state to both thank these students for what they have achieved so far, while also encouraging them to consider Lincoln’s legacy as a role model for their own futures.”
As Chancellor of UIS and an Academic Trustee of the Lincoln Academy, it is my honor each year to select one UIS student for this prestigious recognition. I’m delighted to announce that, just yesterday in a ceremony at the Old State Capital in Springfield, UIS senior Melissa Van received the 2019 Student Laureate award, which includes presentation of the Lincoln Medal, a Certificate of Merit and a monetary award.
A member of the Capital Scholars Honors program at UIS, Melissa is from Lincoln, Illinois, and will be graduating this year with a major in business and minor in management.
“I am a first generation Vietnamese-American,” says Melissa. “My parents emigrated from Vietnam and have always been role models for me. They started from the bottom and worked hard to make a better life for me and my younger sisters. I didn’t realize how amazing this was then; but I do now.”
“I’m the oldest in my family and one of my primary goals has always been to earn my college degree,” she continues.
“Going to college, I wanted to be open to everything and, in addition to my studies, I’ve joined many groups and clubs like the Legacy Dance Team, the Community Garden Club and Students Allied for a Greener Earth. I’ve worked as a member of the UIS Orientation Team and in the Survey Research Office, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. I also drive back to Lincoln each week to help my mom – working in her salon.”
When notified of their selection, each Student Laureate is asked to reflect briefly in writing about how Lincoln’s leadership and legacy might serve as an inspiration for them to pursue a life of leadership and service. Melissa wrote: “Growing up in Lincoln, Illinois, and then attending UIS in Lincoln’s hometown, I’ve been surrounded by Lincoln and his legacy since I was a child. It’s a legacy that has been guiding me toward becoming a leader myself.”
“UIS has given me many opportunities to show what I am made of, and I want to take my leadership skills and apply them after I graduate,” she continues. “There is so much I want to accomplish not just for myself, but for my community.”
Congratulations to Melissa and all the young sons and daughters of Illinois who were recognized yesterday as 2019 Lincoln Academy Student Laureates. You are the future of our state!
Susan J. Koch is Chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield