The 2016 Jefferson Awards

Kid Reporter Manu Onteeru at the 2016 Jefferson Awards
Kid Reporter Manu Onteeru at the 2016 Jefferson Awards

Manu at the 2016 Jefferson Awards Foundation gala

On June 16, the annual Jefferson Awards Foundation gala took place in Washington, D.C. The awards are dedicated, in the foundation’s words, to “sharing the stories of America’s best citizens [so as to] inspire all to take action.” This year’s honorees included former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NASA engineer Sophia Sanchez-Maes, who is only 18.

“I’m here for the composite body of my work, which includes my work for NASA,” Sophia said. “I got to code for the Mars rover . . . and now I work on exoplanets, where I try to find worlds like Earth.”

The importance of education and overcoming obstacles were common themes throughout the night. “It’s hard because I’m female, Hispanic, and I’m in STEM,” said Sophia. “I still see myself as a kid, too. You’ve got to be brave, and you’ve got to keep pushing forward. You’re going to find people like me along the way who are so happy to help you and support you and be supported. You have this real community that is so wonderful, and they will make it all worth it.”

Kid Reporter Manu Onteeru with Sophia Sanchez-Maes, an honoree at the Jefferson Awards Photo by Molly Linehan

Manu with honoree Sophia Sanchez-Maes

Duncan offered his views on what it takes to do well in life no matter what path you choose. “The only way to be successful is to work really hard, and to not just learn when you’re in school, but for the rest of your life,” he said. “The day I stop learning is the day I become obsolete.”

Top photo: Lawrence French; bottom photo: Molly Linehan