By Christopher Falvo
April 3, 2008
Darien News-Review (CT)
Awards and honors are usually bestowed upon individuals who go above and beyond the expectations of society to lend a hand to persons in need, to excel athletically or academically, or to help blaze new trails. However, for some people these endeavors are part of their daily life.
Emily Cortright, a junior at Darien High School, fits the bill of the latter. Cortright recently earned The Congressional Award Gold Medal for achievements the 17-year-old completed across the past four years of her life. Cortright will be honored, along with other recipients from across the nation in a June 19 ceremony on Capitol Hill.
When Cortright first became aware of the awards program she jumped at the opportunity, because she was already involved in many endeavors that could help catapult her to being honored.
"A lot of the things I like to do I did for the Congressional Medal and I'm just continuing them now," Cortright said.
However, it was the other experiences along the way that helped break a shy girl out of her shell, create a stronger bond between father and daughter and create a sense of reward not many teenagers could feel without helping those in far less fortunate situations than their own.
Cortright became involved with theater, hiking -- which she did mainly with her father -- the debate team and volunteering. A softball player since kindergarten, Cortright took up squash, which she plays at the club level for DHS.
The Congressional Award National Board of Directors (CANBD) chooses recipients for its Congressional Award program based on "achievements in personal development, physical fitness and expeditions/exploration." The award program focuses on 14- to 23-year-olds and those who work with youth. The Congressional Award program was established in 1979 as a private, nonprofit and tax-exempt organization.
Candidates must first outline their goals for the board and then log in a journal their objectives as they complete them over a four-year period.
The CANBD established six levels of recognition for its candidates: The Congressional Award Certificate in bronze, silver and gold; and The Congressional Award Medal in bronze, silver and gold.
Cortright was bestowed the board's highest honor for the work she has completed since she started this venture at age 13.
"I was really excited," Cortright said of being selected. "It was a lot of work I put a lot of effort into it and I put a lot of effort into the write-up."
Maybe the most rewarding endeavor Cortright undertook was a trip to Louisiana, where she helped rebuild homes of families affected by Hurricane Rita.
"We decided to go and help victims of Rita, because it got so much less attention, even though it was pretty damaging," said Cortright, who took the trip with members of her church, The First Congregational Church of Darien.
Cortright helped spackle, drywall and paint a house, tasks she admitted she had never done before.
"I don't know how well it actually turned out, but we worked really hard on that house," she said.
Chasing the Congressional Award Medal also helped Cortright forge a new bond with her father, Richard. Over the four years, the two went on three expeditions together.
First, they hiked 17 miles of the Appalachian Trail in a three-day span. They also used a boat to explore a state park and created maps using a GPS for the Rail-to-Trails initiative, which helps turn abandon railroad tracks into hiking and bike trails.
"It was good bonding," Cortright said. "I really like hiking with my dad. It was a good 17 miles worth of chatting."
Cortright's mother, Elizabeth, also got involved by teaching her daughter how to sew and knit. Cortright then took her newfound knowledge and knitted scarves for the Darien Library Knit-a-thon, which benefited the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. She also helped knit 50 afghan squares for the Warm-Up America Foundation.
Cortright also used this opportunity to shed her reserved nature, by auditioning for plays and landing a role in "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical comedy.
"It was fun. I think it was on of the best things I did," Cortright said. "It kind of forced me to talk to people I never talked to before I think it made me a little more comfortable."
Cortright was also on the debate team freshman year. She is currently a part of Nutmeg Express at the high school and is on the executive board at The First Congregational Church.
(c) 2008 Darien News-Review. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.