Soon Il Higashino, received the Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History when she was a high school student from Ossining, NY. The prize is given to only 2 out of 800 applicants across the nation. Her research on the redback salamanders is so ground-breaking that she may be given the chance to name the new species of bacteria that she discovered as a contributor of their population decline.

In addition to this achievement, Soon Il had a 4.0 grade point average, was active in heading school clubs, worked a part-time job and helped with her local Core Values Academy.

She and her father are the first to admit that great accomplishments don’t come easy. “This year (2015), I faced many challenges: in school, with friends, in my family, etc..,” Soon Il said. “Sometimes, it would get so difficult that I would ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Why should I do this when friends my age aren’t?”

But there is one thing that has carried Soon Il through the year – her love for God. “Whenever, I asked myself this question, which came up a lot, I always arrived at the same answer: because of God,” she reflected. “If I didn’t know who God was, I wouldn’t be doing all of the things I’m doing now; in other words, I wouldn’t have challenged myself in so many different areas/subjects. I could’ve easily given up, saying that I had too many things to do, but I didn’t.”

Where does she get that motivation? She continues, “I couldn’t have done any of it without God and everyone (family, community, friends, etc.)  always supporting me.”

Her parents make it a point to let her know that they are there for her; that they support her; and that they are ready, whenever she needs, to listen to her. They regularly tell her, “We love you. We trust you. And we are proud of you.”

They are also realistic about the challenges in life. Soon Il’s father reminds his children, “There are always new challenges after you overcome this one. Let’s see them as opportunities to grow.” Advice that he finds his daughter repeating back to him when he is facing hard times.

“In every struggle I face, I only need to remind myself of why I go,” reflected Soon Il. “Why am I doing this? I’m doing this for God, and God has done sooo many many things for us, and I want to do at least something to make God happy through my investment.”

Soon Il’s salamanders remind us that accolades are the icing on the cake. The real return is our growth and conviction forged in the fires of life’s challenges. And what better support to have in those moments than from your family.