Andrew Gardanier, 17

From: Mesa, Arizona

Graduated: Big Sky High School

College: Brigham Young University after two-year church mission trip in San Antonio, Texas

When Andrew Gardanier was selected to travel to El Salvador for a basketball exchange, he felt uncertain about the trip at first.

The U.S. Department of State reports a high crime rate there, but the six-time Academic All-State Award winner wasn't worried about theft or even homicide.

Rather, Gardanier, who had studied Spanish but felt "shaky" with the language, wanted to be certain he could communicate well and be culturally sensitive to Salvadoran students and coaches.

"I was really nervous going into it, if I'm being completely honest," said Gardanier, 17.

In his resume, Gardanier said the eight-day exchange "used basketball as a medium to engage at-risk students and professional mentors." He taught drills to coaches and scrimmaged with students from 8 years old to 20, and he considers the trip a success.

"It was actually probably one of the coolest experiences I've had in my life, just being around that culture," Gardanier said.

The trip overseas was a first for him, but it's just one of the ways he has been of service to others and shown leadership. As co-president of the student body, he helped organize food drives and sandbag filling for flooded families. Gardanier also served as team captain for his football and basketball teams.

When he injured his wrist as a quarterback and had to recover from a devastating sprain, Gardanier sat on the sidelines, but he got perspective from a colleague. "I learned how to be a better teammate, more so off the field."

In a letter nominating the student as an Academic and Leadership All Star, school counselor Vanessa Gibson said Gardanier is known for his athletic leadership, but he does much more. He gives out high fives to special needs students, defused a tense exchange between two students that may have ended in a fight, and generally "does the right thing when no one is looking."

"His modesty and character make him stand out above all else," Gibson wrote. "He is an exceptional young man who is destined to make our world a better place."

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