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This is the time of year when high school seniors are usually sending out graduation invitations, getting their cap and gown and scheduling senior pictures while counting down the days until their first day of college.

All of those activities, however, have come to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With schools postponing graduation, many seniors across the country are crushed and disheartened. Their final year of high school is now being spent at home while watching the world coming to a pause. This is why the American Press Top Pick Prep Awards means more now than ever.

Already in its second year, the Top Pick Prep Awards is a community run program for recognizing hard-working students participating in clubs and sports. Heather Mulkey, social media content manager for the American Press, said the purpose of these awards is to bring the community's attention to students who work hard both in and outside of school.

Mulkey said the program's goal is to uplift these students and have the community recognize their hard work and dedication.

The Top Picks nominations are broken down by categories to recognize as many students as possible. The clubs, organizations and sports featured are common across the schools in Southwest Louisiana — 4-H, Beta, Chess Team, Key Club and chorus are just a few of the categories.

High school students can be nominated from the following parishes: Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis and Vernon. Nominations close on Thursday, April 23. To nominate a student, visit www.AmericanPress.com/TOP-PICK.

Once the community votes on the winners, the Top Picks will be published in the American Press.

Mulkey said anyone with a local student in their life who is going the extra step needs to be nominated.

"These kids are our future leaders," she said.

The American Press Top Pick Prep Awards are sponsored by Lake Charles Toyota and Sowela Technical Community College.

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