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Senior wins new car for keeping up grades, attendance

5th Annual Drive for Excellence

Paul Takahashi

Liberty High School senior Kenneth Gonzalez, 18, celebrates winning a new Honda Fit as part of the Clark County School District’s 5th annual Drive for Excellence. At right is Desert Honda’s dealer facilitator Danielle Jenner.

Free Car

KSNV coverage of School District program to recognize academic excellence, June 9, 2011.

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Liberty High School senior Kenneth Gonzalez poses with Chet Buchanan, the host of Chet Buchanan and the Morning Zoo on 98.5 KLUC on Thursday, June 9, 2011, at the Bill & Lillie Heinrich YMCA. Gonzalez won a new Honda Fit as part of the Clark County School District's 5th annual Drive for Excellence event, which honors graduating seniors who maintained a 3.7 GPA and perfect attendance.

A lucky Liberty High School student won a new car at a Clark County School District event Thursday to recognize more than 500 high school seniors for their academic excellence and attendance records.

Kenneth Gonzalez, 18, will receive a new Honda Fit — worth about $17,500 — as the grand prize winner of the School District’s 5th annual Drive for Excellence, held at the YMCA of Southern Nevada, 4141 Meadows Lane.

He won a raffle among the eligible students.

The event honored students who maintained a cumulative grade point average of 3.7 or higher with no unexcused absences. About 900 students, parents and School District staff attended the event.

“It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Gonzalez, who is graduating this month with a 4.2 GPA and perfect attendance. “I feel really, really lucky. It’s ridiculous.”

The early graduation gift — awarded on the last day of school — was donated by AutoNation’s Desert Honda dealership, which came up with the event five years ago.

“Not every family can afford transportation for their kids when they go off to college,” said Danielle Jenner, Desert Honda’s dealer facilitator. “It’s reliable transportation to get back and forth to college.”

In addition to the car, about $8,000 in scholarships — donated by Silver State Schools Credit Union and United Healthcare — were awarded to six high school seniors at the event. Prizes worth about $2,000 were also given away.

It’s a way to keep seniors from slacking off during the second semester, said Bridget Bilbray-Phillips, director of the districts School-Community Partnership program.

“Absences are sometimes a challenge. Students get a little apathetic during their senior year,” she said. “We want to keep them motivated and wanting to attend school...This is a wonderful way to reward and acknowledge our finest students.”

Durango High School senior Kate Tarpley, 18, received a $1,000 check. The Gov. Guinn Millennium scholar, who is graduating this month with a 4.5 GPA, plans to attend UNR next year.

“I’m ecstatic. I never win anything,” Tarpley said. “I’m happy I won the scholarship.”

Tarpley’s mother, Samantha Tarpley, said the scholarship would help bridge the gap unfunded by the Millennium scholarship, which pays for about 56 percent of the tuition at a Nevada college. The scholarship program, founded by the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, received $10 million from the Legislature last week to fund scholarships through June 2015.

“It doesn’t pay for any housing or books, so this is going toward that,” she said. “At this point, (the $1,000 scholarship check) means no student loans yet.”

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