11 February 2019 | Story Mamosa Makaya | Photo Francois van Vuuren
Star of stars
Thabang Sithela from L.a Wesi Secondary School is the 2019 Star of Stars here with Nomonde Mbadi, Director of Student Recruitment Services.

The Star of Stars Awards is a spectacular annual event that recognises and celebrates excellence among Grade 12 learners from Quintile 1-3 schools in the Xhariep, Motheo and Lejweleputswa regions of the Free State province. The office of Student Recruitment Services held the award ceremony on 2 February 2019, at the University of the Free State’s (UFS), Bloemfontein Campus. In attendance were Grade 12 finalists and their parents, senior leadership of the UFS and sponsors of the event.

Awards programme drives excellence

Participants in the Star of Stars award programme are cultivated from schools located in some of the poorest communities in the province, where they are faced with difficult social circumstances. The top 20 are selected using their June and September matric results, and from these the top 10 are selected using the criteria of academics, leadership, and community engagement. This year’s top award was presented to Thabang Sithela from La Wesi Secondary school in Nyakallong, Allanridge. He is registered to study for a degree in Geochemistry in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences on the Bloemfontein Campus.

Accepting the top award Thabang encouraged other learners to remain steadfast “to be successful in life you have to remain positive, even in negative situations, so as not to find yourself remaining in that negativity”. The panel of judges comprised seven officials from various Bloemfontein-based organisations including the UFS, OFM and Kovsie Alumni Trust. The panel was chaired by Mar’c Scholtz of Brand Boss Creative, who praised the students for their unrelenting willpower in emerging top of their class. He further commended the office of UFS Student Recruitment Services led by Nomonde Mbadi, director of Student Recruitment Services, who conceptualised the programme in 2016, which has grown in leaps and bounds.

Fostering diversity and inclusion

The UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, said one of the remaining challenges facing universities in South Africa is inequality, which permeates the circumstances of disadvantaged students when they join higher education institutions. He said the UFS aims to ensure that its student body is representative of society, with one of its goals being diversity and inclusivity. However, elements such as social class still hold students back. But despite this the students being awarded are a shining example of what it takes to beat the odds. “This is the most exciting time of your life, enjoy it,” Prof Petersen said.

The Star of Stars awards programme is holistic, empowering finalists with career counselling, mentorship, and guidance to campus life. The programme is key in incentivising students in the Free State to be high achievers, but most importantly to overcome their difficult circumstances, opening them up to greater opportunities in their student life and future careers.

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