BRADENTON - Miranda Massey's tears Thursday night reflected specks of brightness from the lights strewn across the Bradenton Auditorium ceiling.
Her mom, Lisa Marie Phillips, hugged her tight with one arm, the other holding the program she had rolled into a makeshift loudspeaker to yell through when her daughter walked on stage to accept the 2006 Golden Herald Award in Speech and Drama.
The other 14 categories ranged from art to journalism to business. Nominees, all students at Manatee County high schools, were judged in a variety of areas, with an emphasis on community service.
"For people to see and recognize what I've known her whole life is amazing," said Phillips, who gave her daughter two kisses on her right cheek when she first found her in the crowd that clustered near the stage after the ceremony.
Massey, a Bayshore High School senior, has volunteered more than 400 hours with the Manatee Players Theatre, where she is also helping raise funds for the construction of a new theater.
But she considers a recent role as her most important project.
Massey played the leading role in "Drugged Home," a free production about substance abuse based on true stories from clients at Manatee Glens and Safe Haven.
Honorable Mention winners won a trophy and $500. Each Golden Herald winner went home with a medal, a trophy and $2,000.
One winner plans to save the prize money for things she may need to buy as she heads to the University of Florida. The winner in Music, Caitlen Williford, of Manatee High School, is considering studying interior design or business in college while continuing to do what earned her a Golden Herald.
"I'll continue doing community service throughout college," Williford said.
The winner in the Vocational category, Manatee School for the Arts senior Corie Bieniek won the raffle for a two-year lease on a Ford Mustang convertible.
Bieniek has been a camp counselor at 4-H summer camps and is a small group leader at her church. One of her supervisors from 4-H described Bieniek as having some of the highest moral and ethical characteristics she has seen in a young person.
The winner in Mathematics has learned through her community service to appreciate the little things in life, but Shannon Walsh, from Lakewood Ranch High School, has also learned that "a lot of people don't take youth seriously."
She hopes to continue to prove that there's a lot young people can do as she goes on to Florida State University, where she plans to study biomedical engineering or psychiatry.
When Walsh's name was called, her friend Katie Derespino scurried to the side of the stage to snap some pictures of a girl Derespino said has shown how to be totally selfless.
"When you think there's no more you can give, there's always more," Derespino said of what Walsh has taught her.
On a mission trip to Guatemala, Walsh helped give micro-loans to women wanting to start a business. The experience helped her gain perspective on her own life, a life that she says seems spoiled in comparison to the poverty she witnessed.
"Every time I saw someone, they were working and no one was complaining . . .," Walsh said. "It's made me appreciate things more. Everything I do, I do with a smile."
Thursday night's winners and all the nominees join the more than 3,600 high school seniors that have participated in the Golden Herald Awards, established in 1978 by The Herald. Each participating school is allowed to nominate two seniors in each category.