Despite the challenges of teaching and coaching during the pandemic, NJEA and News 12 New Jersey still featured 30 of New Jersey’s top graduating seniors on News 12 broadcasts for the 24th consecutive year. While the students couldn’t meet for a luncheon, five students were selected as scholarship recipients with one being honored with an additional $5,000 scholarship as the New Jersey Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Gianna Aiello from Matawan Regional High School was named Scholar Athlete of the Year. A basketball player who also runs cross country and track, will be attending Brown University to study engineering this fall. In addition to a stellar GPA, Gianna served as president of the National Honor Society and attended the STEM Academy. Her inspiration is her older brother who lost his battle with leukemia. “I have a great community, school, and coaches who push me to the max and give me unconditional support,” she shared.

The other finalists for Scholar Athlete of the Year received $1,000 scholarships. They were:

  • Adam Elsais from North Plainfield High School, who plays football, wrestles, and runs track. He is attending Wesleyan University.
  • Gianna Strazulla from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a cheerleader with four state and five national titles who has interned at two law firms. She is attending Quinnipiac University.
  • ElissarAbou-Jaoude from Newton High School, a field hockey player and EMT who is a caregiver for her brother with Cerebral Palsy. She is attending Rutgers with plans to become a medical doctor.
  • Varun Gupta from Morris Hills High School, a top fencer who plays bass in the jazz band and created a fencing scoring app. He is attending Northeastern University.

The students were selected based on their academic and athletic achievements, as reported in nominations received from high schools around the state. Each week, the Scholar Athlete was featured in a news segment on News 12 New Jersey.

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