High schools commonly recognize the achievements of their athletes with an awards banquet, but academically successful students outside the athletic arena might not always get the pat on the back they deserve.
That was the idea that led to the formation of the Kansas University Alumni Association's Kansas Honors Program, which annually honors the state's top high school seniors.
Brett Fuller, director of chapter and constituent programs for the alumni association, coordinated the honors program for the last year. A reorganization of responsibilities in April put Jodi Breckenridge at the helm of the Kansas Honors Program.
Fuller explained that the alumni association contacts high school principals across the state to solicit the names of seniors who rank academically in the top 10 percent of their classes. The students are designated Kansas Honor Scholars and recognized during one of 38 programs scheduled throughout Kansas.
"We hold 21 programs in the fall and 18 in the spring," he said.
THE STUDENTS and their families are invited to attend the program in their area. KU alumni scattered across the state help organize the regional programs.
Each program features a dinner, musical entertainment by a group of KU students, and a speech by a KU dean or other official. A KU graduate from the area usually serves as master of ceremonies.
A representative from the alumni association explains the purpose of the Kansas Honors Program, and high school principals announce the students from their schools being recognized that evening. Each student receives a special edition of "The American Heritage Dictionary" and a folder, which includes an engraved certificate and a copy of "Kansas Alumni" magazine.
Depending on the location of the program, Fuller said, between 30 and 300 students are recognized at each one. About 3,000 seniors are designated Kansas Honor Scholars each year, and the program has saluted more than 50,000 students in all 105 Kansas counties during its 21-year history.
The alumni association invites KU alumni in the students' hometowns to attend the programs or to sponsor a student by paying the cost of a student's dinner at the program, Fuller said.
MONEY TO purchase the dictionaries was made available when Frank Grant Crowell, an 1888 KU graduate, bequeathed $2 million to the university when he died in 1936.
After completing law and graduate degrees, Crowell practiced law in Atchison and served as Atchison County attorney and was a member of the Kansas Board of Regents.
In 1901, he embarked upon a career as a grain merchant, banker and insurance executive. His work in the grain trade was particularly successful, and he became a nationally known authority in the field.
The Crowell Book Award is one of the programs financed by his gift.
Fuller said the Kansas Honors Program, which was implemented in 1971, may help attract top students to KU, but the program's objective has shifted over the years. Now "it's just an academic achievement night," he said.
"The basic objective is to take an opportunity to recognize these seniors' academic achievements. There's all kinds of athletic banquets, but there's very few academic banquets. We promote higher education within the state of Kansas."