Elks Lodge honors ‘outstanding students’

May 3, 2019

Miranda Cortez picked up an award Thursday night.

Then she helped break down the reception room at the Santa Fe Elks Lodge No. 460.

It was just Cortez’s nature to lend a helping hand — something the Capital senior has done a lot in her short lifetime. She helps with her father’s church (New Beginnings Christian Church), is preparing herself for a career in health care, runs her own business (a health and beauty product startup), and tried to help a man who suffered a gunshot wound to his leg in September.

On top of all that, she was a five-year varsity girls basketball player.

In short, her hands were made for helping. That was why Capital biomedical science teacher Jennifer Bakevich introduced Cortez as the school’s female outstanding student at the Elks Lodge’s Outstanding Student Banquet. She was one of 27 Santa Fe students recognized for their efforts in and out of the classroom. The banquet, which has been a staple of the organization for decades, honored a male and female student from the eighth or 12th grades from each city middle and high schools.

Cortez was shocked that she was recognized for the honor by Capital, but after meeting the other award members, she feels like she is a part of a unique group.

“If they were all in the situation I was in, my heart tells me any of them would do it,” Cortez said. “Maybe that’s just my heart saying that, but a lot of people go through a lot of things and I hear about it. For me to be honored, I think I am one out of many who should be honored.”

Like Lazarus Griego, who was recognized by El Camino Real Academy Assistant Principal Erica Martinez Maestas for taking on the role of being a student-athlete — the overwhelming majority of the award recipients played middle school or high school athletics — and never backing down from the challenge.

Or Jacob Stevens, a senior at New Mexico School for the Deaf who was lauded by administrators and teachers for living “by his own code.”

Santa Fe Indian School senior Tamia Garcia created an anti-bullying campaign after she suffered it firsthand as a freshman.

Ron Riechman, the Outstanding Student Banquet chairman, said it is not the intention of the lodge or the schools to simply recognize student-athletes at their school. However, involvement in school activities, as well as outside organizations is a key factor in finding the right candidates. The Elks Lodge also emphasizes leadership qualities, good moral character and the “determination to overcome challenges at school and at home” as key parts to determining award winners.

Riechman said each school’s administrators, teachers and counselors selected the students for the award. Only Santa Fe High and Milagro Middle School were missing from the awards ceremony, which Riechman said was because he never heard back from them.

“It gives you a lot of inspiration that our kids are doing OK,” Reichman said. “You hear a lot about the bad things. This, you’re not going to hear anything like that.”

For many of the students, they were unaware of the award and the banquet, and many expressed surprise and honor at being recognized by their schools. Griego said he was pulled out of a class and administrators told him about the distinction.

“I thought of it of as me being a good student in the classroom,” Griego said. “I felt like it was a great thing.”

Capital head football coach Bill Moon, the keynote speaker for the event, said each of the winners exhibited similar traits that helped explain how hey stood out from their peers.

“You’re here because you’ve mastered some things,” Moon said. “Self-discipline. You had the integrity every day to do your work. You did it honestly. Nobody is going to ask you, ‘What are the two treaties of Paris that are famous in American history?’ … You’re not even going to remember that, but you will always have your honesty and your integrity and your faith.”

It was Cortez’s integrity that compelled to help the rest of the Elks Lodge members clean up after the event.

They are hands made for helping.