The high-achieving students from Fayette County’s seven high schools who gathered to be honored at the fifth annual Achievement in the Arts Awards in Connellsville Sunday afternoon already knew that the arts still matter. They were living proof.

So standing before the honorees, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Morgantown-based musician and writer R.J. Nestor, noted that the arts are important not just because arts education has been shown to improve test scores across the board but because they are a primal element of humanity.

“They’re a part of who we are,” Nestor said.

And the recent ceremony at Murphy Hall showed that they’re a vital part of the scholastic fabric of Fayette County.

Three seniors each from Albert Gallatin Area, Brownsville Area, Connellsville Area, Frazier, Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior, Laurel Highlands and Uniontown Area high schools were selected for honors in music, theater and visual arts by their teachers.

Each honoree received a plaque and a $100 honorarium during the program, which was sponsored by the Fayette County Cultural Trust and the Rotary Clubs of Belle Vernon, Brownsville, Connellsville, Point Marion, Smithfield and Uniontown.

Emceeing the event was Fayette County Cultural Trust President Michael Edwards. Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, was on hand to extend his congratulations to the awardees.

Like the arts themselves, Achievement in the Arts recognition rewards creativity.

“That’s going to serve you well in whatever field you go into,” Achievement in the Arts Committee Chair Charles Motycka said.

This year’s recipients are:

Albert Gallatin High School: Shawn Anthony Dirda Jr., music; James Garrett Brown, theater; Scott Plance, visual arts

Brownsville Area High School: Caitlyn Angel, music; Jayda Jones, theater; Valerie Warren, visual arts

Connellsville Area High School: Anthony Domina, music; Parker Carte, theater; Kellie Marie Williams, visual arts

Frazier High School: Nicholas Miller, music; Logan Kulikoski, theater; Laci Sullivan, visual arts

Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School: Nina Alvarez, music; Lauren Judy, theater; Amanda Knapp, visual arts

Laurel Highlands High School: Brandon Scott Saghy, music; Isabella Leonardo, theater; Madison Ford, visual arts

Uniontown Area High School: Luke Patton, music; Abigail Rocks, theater; Leah Jane Anido, visual arts

Roughly two thirds of the students present indicated that they planned to pursue a career in something other than the arts when asked by Nestor for a show of hands.

But Nestor stressed the importance of making their own opportunities whether they’re aiming for an arts career or not.

“They just aren’t going to fall in your lap,” Nestor said, urging students to form their own band or produce or direct their own play. “You have to be your own advocate.”

And be a good person to work with, Nestor added.

“Never, ever, ever be a diva,” Nestor advised, noting a dearth of divas among Broadway performers because divas get weeded out before they ever get there.

Anthony Domina, 18, of Connellsville observed that his passion is more than mere recreation.

“It’s more than just music,” said Domina, who has been a percussion section leader in the Connellsville Area High School marching band for three years. “It’s life skills.”

Domina plans to go to Fairmont State University to become a music educator and teach music to future generations.

“I want to keep it alive,” Domina said.

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