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Conston brothers named Presidential Scholars

AWM seniors two of four Arkansans to earn presti-gious honor

West Memphis School District

Academies of West Memphis seniors Ryan and Bryan Conston lost a lot of sleep and probably a lot of sweat, too, in applying for the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholarship.

And when the news came the identical twins of Renee and Cornelius Conston, the two normally reserved did their best holding back the emotion.

Only four students in Arkansas were awarded the Presidential Scholarship, and two of them not only came from the same town, but the same family.

'We're both very reserved personalities, and when we found out I didn't tear up or anything, although that's what I wanted to do,' said Ryan. 'It was a real humbling experience. I was very emotional on the inside and yet humbled as well.'

The Scholarship in 1979 was initially meant to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. But last year the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields.

Ryan also was awarded another elite-status scholarship. He's a Gates Scholar and his college scholarship offer total is over $1.8 million.

Together, the twin brothers have an outstanding offer total of $2.9 million. The Gates Millenium Scholars Program chooses from among 53,000 applicants and it is funded by billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates. The scholarship can be used to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major in any accredited college or university of the student's choosing.

'Ryan and Bryan are two of the most dedicated students I've ever taught,' said Joanne Smith, math department head at AWM. 'They are always wanting to learn, always on time and they're always reaching for something extra. I'm so proud of them.'

Both brothers say they're headed to Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in Pre-Med. The rigorous application process is built on three paths of accomplishment.

The majority of students are selected on the basis of broad academic achieve- ment. Approximately 20 additional students are selected on the basis of their academic and artistic scholarship in the visual arts, the performing arts or creative writing. Another 20 are selected on the basis of their outstanding scholarship and accomplishment in career and technical fields.

The paring began with 4,000 students making the first cut based on ACT and SAT scores. The next cut came at 600 for semifinalists.

'The process was so hard that we both worked long after midnight on school nights,' said Bryan. 'Once I think we stayed up til like 4 a.m. doing this stuff.'

The application process includes, among other things, six written essays and recommendations from teachers.

They both said a lot of prayer from themselves and their parents played a big part in the process.

'We just prayed and hoped for the best,' Ryan said.

The Constons say their parents have always stressed academics.

'There are achievement levels the schools set and then there are even higher levels set by our parents,' Bryan added. 'They are our emotional and spiritual guides.'

The Constons will be given an all-expenses-paid trip to the White House in June to receive their recognition.

Both students want to thank all their teachers, including

Dr. Gabriel Gillette

and Dewanda Kirkland, both of whom stayed with them after school helping with the application process.

By Billy Woods