Albemarle High School Senior Keyri Lopez-Godoy was awarded a $30,000 Scholarship from the Emily Couric Leadership Forum during a luncheon held Wednesday at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, Va. Credit: Credit: Andrew Shurtleff / The Daily Progress

For the first time in Albemarle High School history, one of its students has received one of the most prestigious scholarships available to local women.

Before a packed ballroom at the Omni Hotel on Wednesday, Keyri Lopez-Godoy received the 2015 Emily Couric Leadership Scholarship — a $30,000 award given to a young woman in any of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s public or private high schools who displays exemplary leadership qualities.

“This is an incredible honor, and incredible privilege,” Lopez-Godoy said. “I just can’t fathom everything that is going on.”

The award honors the memory of state Sen. Emily Couric, who served on the Charlottesville School Board from 1985 to 1991 before being elected to the General Assembly in 1995. She died of cancer in 2001.

This year’s selection committee praised Lopez-Godoy’s “great potential for future leadership and influence or impact on society.” Tutoring, cultural and language education, immigration issues and volunteering are just a few of the many activities the student has juggled all while working part-time at Kroger.

Originally from El Salvador, Lopez-Godoy said she’s thankful to live in a country with such great resources.

“I came to America in 2005, when I was 8 years old, and I started at Greer Elementary School,” Lopez-Godoy said. “And since that year, there was always a teacher, especially Mrs. Madigan, my English as a Second or Other Language teacher, who was always pushing me to do better and was always telling me about the beauties that America has to offer.”

And the Albemarle senior credits her parents with instilling leadership qualities in her.

“They told me that being in America is a great opportunity and not to take anything for granted,” she said. “I think just knowing that … has pushed me to really meet people and get involved.

Jay Thomas, principal of Albemarle High, said Lopez-Godoy is a joy to have in school.

“She’s involved in everything you can image,” Thomas said. “She’s genuine, she’s passionate, she’s just a great young lady and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Melissa Hankins, Albemarle High’s assistant principal, agreed.

“I find myself telling stories about her … and when I hear myself, I think that this is too good to be true,” Hankins said. “She’s always thinking about other people and her goals are really just to help others.”

Hal Hankins, who taught Lopez-Godoy’s government class at Albemarle High, ranked her among the top students he’s ever taught.

“The thing that she brings more than anything is a love of people,” Hankins said. “And she’s thankful for everything; she’ll thank people for letting her volunteer.”

After graduation, Lopez-Godoy plans to complete her general education requirements at Piedmont Virginia Community College before transferring to a four-year institution. In the future, she hopes to travel the country and the world as an English as a Second or Other Language teacher, and one day hopes to build a school for children in El Salvador.

As she heads into that future, however, Lopez-Godoy said she’ll remain humble.

“I think it’s through the involvement with others that I’ve reached where I am today and I will always be grateful for that,” she said.

The other finalists — who each receive a $5,000 scholarship — include Grace Katherine Sorenson, from the Covenant School; Marta Regn, of the Miller School of Albemarle; Autumn Diggs, of Monticello High School; Lauren Ewell, of the Renaissance School; Sophia Magnolia Hunt, of St. Anne’s-Belfield School; Phoebe Caplin, of Tandem Friends School; and Adeline Sandridge, of Western Albemarle High School.

Alexis Moet Taylor, of Charlottesville High School, won this year’s merit award, which comes with an additional $5,000.

The leadership forum does not only recognize students. Dr. Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist who The New York Times named a “Hero for the Planet,” took home the 2015 Women’s Leadership Award. In past years, the award has gone to distinguished women such as Rita Dove, Sandra Day O’Connor and Emily Couric herself in 2001.

Earle, who spoke intermittently between video footage of her deep sea explorations, encouraged the young women to seize opportunities.

“There are opportunities which exist now, that unless we take action, we will lose those chances,” Earle said. “This is a magic, special sweet spot in time.”