Inside the Gold Key award selection process

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.24.29 AMA 67-year-old tradition familiar to much of the PHS community, the annual Gold Key Ceremony will take place on May 29 in the Performing Arts Center. However, few students and faculty not directly involved in the ceremony know the inner workings of the event.

During the ceremony, the previous year’s junior winners, who are now part of this year’s selection committee, award several members of the junior and senior class “Gold Keys.” These potential recipients have been nominated by peers, faculty, and staff as part of an online process, during which nominators describe the sports, organizations, and activities each nominee is involved in, both inside and outside of PHS.

“Students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to nominate students by March 28 through announcements, emails, Twitter, Facebook, and through flyers posted throughout the building with [a] QR scanner linking them to the Google Doc nomination,” wrote college counselor Patti Lieberman, a member of the selection committee, in an email.

In the third week of April, after the nomination deadline has passed, the recipients are chosen by the selection committee.

“The Gold Key Committee consists of guidance counselors, some teachers, and four Gold Key recipients from last year,” wrote Lieberman.

The four student committee members are junior recipients of the award, who are elected by other recipients to participate in the final selection. “People voted for those [committee members] who they felt had the largest variety of knowledge of the various activities and community groups PHS students take part in and widest awareness of the credentials and personalities of those nominated for a Gold Key,” said junior year recipient Meggie Loughran ’14.

“[The four elected committee members] read all of the recommendations and information sent in about the nominees,” said junior year recipient Liana Bloom ’14.

Teachers play a role in the selection of student recipients, both through nominations and discussion. “Teachers nominate, and they definitely have a say,” said Tony Chen ’14, a junior year recipient. “I know teacher nominations are recorded, so … that plays a role.”

This year, teacher involvement in the selection process was significant. “A lot of teachers gave nominations. Teachers who are more involved in clubs often like to nominate students they know well who have the characteristics of Gold Key winners,” said Chen.

Approximately five percent of the junior class and ten percent of the senior class are selected as recipients. “Not every single student is nominated. There’s a lot of teacher discussion and work by the guidance offices because those are the people who … know students the best,” said Chen.

The committee has a set of informal guidelines to advise decisions. “There are certain traits the selection committee is looking for,” said Mollie Chen ’14, a junior year recipient. “We want people who have given back to their school and who seem like well-rounded, good candidates.”

The intended recipients should have demonstrated both academic excellence and strength in additional fields, ranging from music to athletics to community service. “The greatest consideration is given to service rendered to Princeton High School,” wrote Lieberman.

So far, no committee has voted on nominees, but the reviewing process has begun. “We … talked about the nominees and added personal details instead of just adding Excel documents, like [so and so] did Model UN. We talk more about their involvement in the club—what they actually did. It was … a discussion of the people, so we were able to give more insight into the whole thing,” said Tony Chen.

While the committee reviews the nominations for achievements, it must also look at technicalities. “The committee members will review the nominations for accuracy,” wrote Lieberman.

Several teachers, along with administration, then review the candidates again, and any of the nominees with a discipline referral will be unable to receive a Gold Key, according to Lieberman.

In describing the recipients to the Town Topics, Principal Gary Snyder shared his perspective on the selected students. “They are [people] who have served the high school in a way that leaves it a better place,” Snyder said.

The pool of candidates changes from year to year, but the standards generally remain consistent over time.

“As a junior, I knew about Gold Keysbecause of the assemblies and just talk in school … I knew it was given to students involved in the community and activities inside and outside of school,” said 2012 Gold Key recipient Maddie Cahill ’13. “There are a ton of candidates for Gold Key, and everyone is amazingly qualified. I know [the decision process] is as objective as possible.”

A few weeks prior to the ceremony, after the recipients are chosen, parents are sent email invitations informing them of their child’s award, although they are encouraged not to tell their children. “I had no idea I had been selected junior year. [It was a] total shock,” said Cahill. “My mom … knew for weeks!”

All juniors and seniors attend the event. “Students will be invited to the PAC for the 2014 Gold Key Ceremony. Last year’s recipients will prepare a short speech [for each recipient] and present the awards to the 2014 Gold Key recipients.  Each year there is a keynote speaker, usually a former PHS graduate that continues to be of great service to their community,” wrote Lieberman.

“The criteria of the Gold Key award include leadership, character, community involvement, and merit, and I know that picking out the most deserving candidates will be tremendously difficult because there are so many talented, proactive, and amazing students at PHS,” Bloom said. “But the decision is a combination from the students’ points of view, as well as the counselors’ and teachers’.”