Roanoke Elks Lodge Shines On 44th Annual Valedictorian Scholarship Night

It all started with its initial awards night limited to only Roanoke City and Roanoke County schools back when Jimmy Carter was President. Seven Presidents and 44 years later, the Roanoke Elks Lodge #197 hasn’t missed a beat in recognizing the top high school seniors for their academic achievement and community involvement.
Today, those honored come from an expanded list of 17 schools throughout the region that has grown over those 44 years. The list includes Cave Spring, Craig County, Faith Christian, Franklin County, Glenvar, Hidden Valley, James River, Lord Botetourt, North Cross, Northside, Patrick Henry, Roanoke Catholic, Roanoke Valley Christian School, Salem, Staunton River, William Byrd and William Fleming.
Thursday evening at the Elks Lodge #197 B.P.O.E. headquarters on Persinger Road each of the 17 schools were invited to have one of their valedictorians on hand to represent the school, as well as the eight individuals selected by a scholarship committee to receive special $1,000 scholarships to assist in furthering their education and aspirations at the next level.
This year’s eight scholarship recipients included Bryce Cooper (Cave Spring), Owyn Dawyot (Cave Spring), Blair Emery  (Cave Spring), Anna Holladay (Hidden Valley), Reesa Faith Devers (Patrick Henry), Lillian Gray Dorathy (Patrick Henry), Tatum Jepson (Patrick Henry) and Dashawn Lewis (William Fleming).
“This night is very satisfying,” Dave Ross, Chairman of the Elks Scholarship Committee noted. “Many scholarships center solely around athletics, but the Elks scholarship winners you see here tonight have our highest honor because of what these young women and men have also achieved academically in the classroom and because they also were involved in various aspects of the community. Looking back at all the winners over the years, many have gone on to have very successful professional careers and being noted for their high character and integrity in the community.”
“Our selection process is unique,” Ross, who has been involved in the selection process for over 30 years, added. “If we have an Elk member, whether a mom, dad or grandparents, who has a graduating senior in their family, they always get first consideration. Others are nominated based on their credentials. We have a very diverse group again this year.”
Elks’ scholarship winners are also awarded on the state and national levels. Nationwide, the Elks annually give out more than $3 million in scholarships. Tom Hensley, Elks #197 Exalted Ruler, noted that nationally, the Elks are the third largest scholarship presenter in dollars. Ross pointed out the Elks scholarship night is one of the longest running award nights in the region for graduating high school seniors.
Thursday evening’s keynote speaker Justin Ditmore, a COVID-19 survivor who underwent a lengthy hospital stay in 2021 due to COVID complications, gave those in attendance an inspiring and motivational talk about facing challenging obstacles as they go forward in life. During its 44 years, Elk speakers have included mayors, congressmen, athletic coaches and stars from the area, along with community leaders.
Thursday night’s scholarship winners were all smiles as they celebrated with family members.
Cooper, the prestigious Cave Spring Knight at the school as well as a three-sport athlete who will attend VMI this fall to major in business and economics, was humble in his assessment of the award.
“I was very honored to just be considered for this award. This really helps with my initial college costs.”
Emery, who will study marketing at Virginia Tech, agreed. “I’m putting all the scholarship money toward school to help with costs.” Emery’s grandparents have been lifetime members of Elks #197.
Holladay will attend George Mason to major in biology. “I have to thank Dave Ross for nominating me. This will help a lot with college expenses.”
Dawyot, who will attend Virginia Tech after holding down a 3.9 GPA and being offered a walk-on opportunity to play basketball for the Hokies, said he wasn’t aware of the scholarship until the last few days.
“My family kept it a secret,” he laughed. “This is going straight into savings. I’m a big saver which makes everything easier in the future.”
Bill Turner

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