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Pathfinders showcase the hidden wealth of our high-achieving teenagers

If you’re looking for a simple way to become instantly inspired, humbled, and reassured about the future, here’s what you need to do.

Read the nomination packets for the local teenagers applying for the annual Pathfinder Scholarship Awards presented by The Palm Beach Post. For the past 34 years, this program has presented millions of dollars in scholarships to graduating high school seniors in 18 categories — everything from art and community involvement to mathematics and literature.

What the winners have already achieved in their young lives will floor you. But what’s more impressive to me is not to focus on the so-called “winners”, but to look at those nominees who didn’t quite make it to the top of the pile.

After all, the measure of a good orchestra, isn’t how good the first-chair player is, but how good the musicians are who are sitting down the row.

And that’s when you really get floored by the Pathfinders, by looking at the second- and third-place finishers, those kids who are awarded $3,000 or $2,500 each for their accomplishments, but stand in the shadows. Don’t believe me? Here’s just a sample of the kids who didn’t “win” at this year’s competition.

Speaking of great violinists, there’s Phillip Taylor, the Oxbridge Academy graduate who was a first violinist with the Palm Beach Atlantic University Symphony when he was in the eighth grade. But wait. Violin isn’t his main instrument.

He’s really a piano player, one good enough to win Downbeat magazine’s National Student Award for jazz soloists, and to be the only piano player selected, in his sophomore year, to play in Florida’s All-State Jazz Band.

But wait. Music’s not really his thing. Taylor wasn’t even applying for a Pathfinder in music. That’s just something else he does. He’s really good at speech and debate. He even does it in Spanish. Oh, and he’s proficient in Latin and Hebrew too. But wait. Language isn’t his category either.

He’s really into Molecular Biology and Math, which explains why the Max Planck Florida Institute of Neuroscience hired him as a research intern while he was still in high school. He’s apparently interested in “engineering a multi-culture automated media perfusion system for in vitro neuronal sustenance and pharmacological manipulation at the microscope stage.”

Whatever that means. Anyway, the point is Taylor didn’t win in the category of Academic Excellence. He was an also-ran, finishing in third place. Imagine that.

And what about Chrystie Tyler, the Dreyfoos School of the Arts senior? You’d think she would be a lock in the Community Involvement award category. She founded a baking club at her school and then used it to partner with teens with developmental disabilities, a project through Seagull Academy she funded by successfully writing a $10,000 grant proposal.

Tyler, a gifted visual artist, also combined her talent, compassion and knowledge of biological sciences to get an internship with a research company that allowed her to build a 3-D printed prosthetic hand for a local boy born without a hand, someone she had met through her baking adventure. And her multi-faceted expertise in art and science has already led to her creating medical illustrations published as instructional material in a medical textbook.

Tyler’s another third-place finisher.

I could go on and on. One story is as inspiring as the next.

OK, one more. You need to hear about Foreign Language nominee Samuel Rahman, another third-placer. Rahman grew up in Belgium, the son of a Dutch mother and Bengali father. So he learned to speak Dutch, French and Bangla. And then he picked up some English and German before his family moved to the United States six years ago.

But book learning didn’t come easy. Rahman discovered he had dyslexia, a reading disability that makes it hard for the brain to process written language.

“My processing speed was ranked in the 3rd percentile, but I did not give up!” Rahman wrote earlier this year on his Pathfinder goal statement. “Now, in the first semester of 12th grade, I have completed my ACT test for the 7th time, and my score is 27.

“This will not be my last test; I am determined to be a warrior and get at least a 30 or higher.”

Rahman plans to use his proficiency in seven languages to pursue an international acting and singing career.

In the meantime, he’s learning about business. He founded the Leaders of Tomorrow Club at Jupiter High School, teaches other students by discussing Sean Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” and has started his first business.

“In the entrepreneurial spirit, Sam recently bought his first fixer-upper home and made a deal with a local handyman in which he could stay in the home free of charge for several months while he fixed up the home,” wrote Susan Garcia, one of Rahman’s teachers.

Rahman, like so many of the other nominees, have made their marks not only in their accomplishments, but in their humanity.

“On a personal note, Samuel is one of the kindest students I have met,” English teacher Melanie Sturgill Jones wrote of Rahman. “He is a student I am proud to have taught and will long remember.”

So if you need to remember something inspiring, humbling, or reassuring, remember this about our newest batch of high school graduates: There are more “winners” out there than get counted.

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