Senior year of high school doesn’t always leave students time to pause and recognize all they’ve accomplished. But the Kansas Honors Program, celebrating its 40th anniversary of being put together by the Kansas University Alumni Association, gives students that time by recognizing the top 10 percent of people in their graduating classes.
Jennifer Sanner, senior vice president for communications for the Alumni Association, said the program began in 1971 with 16 ceremonies. Now, the program has expanded to include 41 ceremonies in all 105 Kansas counties with about 3,500 high school seniors being honored each year.
“In the very busy senior year of the average high school senior, it’s a nice moment to take a breath and think about what it is to do well in school,” she said. “We want them to know the KU Alumni Association and university care about them. We hope that that presence and that honor and recognition help them look favorably on KU.”
At a ceremony, students will be served dinner, listen to a speaker from the university and oftentimes hear music from a student in the music program at KU. Those honored also receive a dictionary, something Sanner says people still appreciate 40 years after the program’s start.
“I think the notion of the book as a trophy, as a symbol, is really powerful,” she said. “We survey students now after every single event, just to make sure that we continue to meet their needs.”
The program is made possible only with the help of local volunteer alumni, who Sanner said take ownership of the program and localize it to each area.
Larry Stoppel got involved more than 25 years ago in Washington County. He moved to the area in 1981 and knew about the program, so he volunteered to help organize it. KU always played a big part in his life, and he, his wife, his two sons and a daughter-in-law all have degrees from the university.
“We are north of Manhattan about an hour, so this is very strong K-State country,” he said. “But I think it’s even more important that KU has a strong presence.”
Stoppel said the program was the Alumni Association’s way of recognizing academic excellence in students, some who might not have gotten the recognition before.
“Some students have been recognized for their athleticism, for being student body leaders, so it’s probably just another award for those folks, but, on the other hand, there’s other students who don’t get much public recognition,” he said.
Stoppel said he plans to keep organizing the event for a few more years, and the event is a good way to also see other area alumni.
Jeff Mason is a relative newcomer to volunteering for the program, starting in 2000. Mason, who has two degrees from KU, took over coordinating the program in Goodland after the local coordinators decided to move back to Lawrence. Being only 17 miles from the Colorado border, Mason said, there aren’t many Jayhawks in that part of the state.
“In our area, I think it’s important for KU to maintain a visibility here,” he said.
Ultimately, though, he wants to make sure local students are being honored, something he thinks doesn’t happen enough.
“I don’t think that the top people in classes get the public recognition that they deserve, so this is one way to do that,” he said.