It’s been close to a year since Hailey James took the stage as the winner of the 2013 General Sterling Scholar award for the Wasatch Front region. At the time, she looked stunned when her name was called.

“You really are shocked, as cliché as it sounds,” she said. “It just puts you into a good mood hearing what these students have done.”

And, looking back, they’ve done a lot.

Now in its 53rd year, the program recognizes the academic, leadership and service accomplishments of some of the Wasatch Front’s top high school seniors. Many past winners have ranked first in their class and/or scored high on their college entrance exams. Some have already participated in university-level coursework or research.

Many past participants, in addition to an intense academic workload, have organized humanitarian projects, worked as tutors and engaged in, or even coordinated service at a local, national or international venue. They have competed and won a broad array of competitions and participated in various extracurricular activities. The program truly brings together a group of “sterling” individuals.

Last March, after months of hard work preparing a portfolio and two rounds of interviews, James left, not only with the prestige of her award, but a $4,000 scholarship. Now, as a freshman at Harvard, she maintains the best part of the Sterling Scholar process was “sharing the stage with so many talented and hard-working people.”

The program was the brainchild of former Desert News education editor Lavor K. Chaffin, who envisioned a program that would publicly recognize and encourage the pursuit of excellence in scholarship, leadership and citzenship in the same way sports competition recognized athletic ability. (See article on the history of the program on Page S12).

Deseret Management Corp., the parent company of both the Deseret News and KSL Broadcast Group, continues to support this philosophy. The charitable giving arm of DMC, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation, provides funding for the scholarships.

The Sterling Scholar program is independently implemented in five regions throughout the state. Only the Wasatch Front region is directly administered by the Deseret News and KSL Broadcast Group.

To accommodate the more than 1,000 nominees from 76 high schools along the Wasatch Front, the region is also broken up into three areas (North, Central and South). Tuesday, judges will gather at Ben Lomond High School in Ogden, Copper Hills High School in West Jordan and Timpview High School in Provo to consider which of this year’s semifinalists will proceed to the finals competition and ultimately be named among the 2014 Sterling Scholars.

Today’s special section contains the group photographs of nominees from high schools within the Wasatch Front region. Students from each high school are nominated in one of 14 categories — English, Mathematics, Social Science, Science, World Languages, Computer Technology, Skilled and Technical Sciences Education, Family & Consumer Sciences, Business & Marketing, Speech/Theater Arts/Forensics, Visual Arts and Dance.

This year is also the inaugural year for a new category: the Music category has been divided into the Instrumental Music and Vocal Performance categories. One Sterling Scholar is named for each category as well as one General (overall) Sterling Scholar chosen from the other 14 category winners.

In addition to the scholarship money awarded to each category winner, 15 universities, colleges and business and technical schools offer scholarships to winners and runners-up. Additional information about these scholarships is included in this section.

Friday’s semifinal competition will winnow down some 1,000 nominees to 210 finalists to, finally, the 14 regional winners to be recognized at a special awards ceremony at Cottonwood High School Wednesday, March 12. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Two special awards will also be presented: the Philo T. Farnsworth Excellence in Education/Governor’s Award and the Douglas F. Bates Community Service Award. A member of Governor Gary Herbert’s staff will present the Farnsworth/Governor’s Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in a technical field. The award is named for the late Douglas F. Bates, longtime administrator for the Utah State Office of Education.

At the conclusion of this year’s program, the 2014 participants can proudly take their place in the Deseret News and KSL Broadcast Group Sterling Scholar community and continue to pursue great achievements in scholarship, leadership and service.