2021 marked the centennial of National Honor Society (NHS), a program of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Since its founding in 1921, NHS has recognized and encouraged exceptional student leaders. One such chapter, established a few years after NHS was born, is now gaining new life. Sterling High School (SHS) in the rural community of Sterling, CO, had an active NHS chapter from 1925 through 2013. After eight years of dormancy, the school proudly reinstated its chapter this year.
Below, Virginia Splichal, an English teacher and NHS adviser at Sterling, and Emma Berg, NHS student president there, reflect on how restarting this chapter has inspired hope and honorability.
Carrying the Torch:
Last year was challenging. In addition to the pandemic isolating us both in and out of the high school, we lost our leader to cancer in September 2020. Principal Wally Beardsley was our rock. He was a fierce leader, he connected with everyone, and he held each of us to high expectations. Without him, we were all a little bit lost.
When SHS finally returned to 100% in-person learning in August of 2021, there was a lot of focus on mental health. We also wanted to recognize students who had somehow found a way to excel, even through difficult times. I wanted to prepare them to carry the torch forward—the torch that Beardsley had lit for us all. When our new principal proposed reinstating NHS, it seemed like the perfect way to honor his legacy and support students in reaching their highest potential—the way Beardsley had supported my colleagues and me.
We announced the reinstatement at fall registration and then launched the application process immediately. We were selective about who we accepted to ensure the exceptionality that NHS demands. We accepted 20 students, and each of them is amazing. They are the students that lead our school and will someday lead our community and our country.
Principal Cindy Lystad brought new energy in her support of our start up by making sure the induction on November 9th would be truly meaningful. Our jazz choir sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the inductees were presented with cookies baked by their peers.
During our first meeting, elections were held, and the new members planned our first ever service project. I was excited because the project students chose, holiday decorating at local nursing homes, was proposed by one of the quieter students. This chapter is such a supportive group. I’m excited to watch what they will do!
A Chance to Come Together:
I’ve always been committed to service. My parents are like that, too. My dad raised me to strive to support my community, not just work for a paycheck, and he encouraged me to be a leader. But I never really had a group to be a part of to engage in service or show leadership. So, when Sterling announced it was reinstating NHS, I knew I needed to apply.
Being a part of NHS has been really cool! The induction was like nothing I’d ever been to before. The parents liked it too, since so many of them had been a part of NHS at Sterling in the past. What I like the most about NHS is how well we all get along. Each of us is so different; some of us are athletes and some are more into the arts, but we are not judgmental. I’m excited about our first project because we’ll bring joy to people and learn about a different part of our community. We have a lot of ideas for the spring and summer already, and I’m hoping that we’ll do more activities involving spending time with the elderly.
I’m a senior, and my plan is to study civil engineering at Colorado State University. I was honored when the chapter elected me as president. I’m hoping that serving in this role will help me develop public speaking and other leadership skills. My peers and I were all so isolated during the pandemic. It’s been great to come back together after the pandemic as a team to help our community.