Vista's Dutzi Earns Congressional Award Gold Medal

California Assembly member Melissa Melendez presented Caroline Dutzi with the Congressional Award silver medal on Wednesday. Dutzi will be p...

California Assembly member Melissa Melendez presented Caroline Dutzi with the Congressional Award silver medal on Wednesday. Dutzi will be presented the gold medal in Washington, D.C. in June.

In recognition of four years of community service, academic excellence and personal development, Vista Murrieta High School senior Caroline Dutzi was honored by California Assembly member Melissa Melendez in a Congressional Award ceremony on Wednesday.

Melendez visited the Vista Murrieta campus to present Dutzi with a silver medal, the second highest honor in the Congressional Award program. Dutzi has already earned the gold medal as well and will be presented with that honor in Washington, D.C. on June 17.

Dutzi is the first student in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District to earn the Congressional Award, which is the U.S. Congress' award for young Americans. She also is only the third student ever to earn the award in the entire 42nd Congressional District.

According to the award website, the program is open to young people ages 14-23 and is a voluntary, non-competitive program. Students can apply at age 13 1/2 and have the opportunity to progress through the program, earning Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates and medals. Students move at their own pace but must satisfy strict requirements before their 24th birthday.

"Students earn this by excelling in four different areas, but they set their own rules. She has gone above and beyond," Melendez said about Dutzi after the medal award ceremony. "She's a 4.0 student. She takes AP courses. She has performed hundreds of hours of community service."

It all began when Dutzi was in the eighth grade at Dorothy McElhinney Middle School. Her P.E. teacher, Carol Hernandez, presented the program to a group of students and offered them the opportunity to participate.

"It goes back further than that," said Hernandez, who became Dutzi's adviser throughout the four-year process. "My son and I were asking the question, 'Why do we have so many smart students at our schools but they don't go to Ivy League colleges? He did some research and discovered that community service is really a key to get into an Ivy League school. He told me about the Congressional Award and I presented it to the eighth graders.

"We had a couple dozen who were interested, but only one has continued on. They realize this is hard work. Watching Caroline grow over the years has been a wonderful experience for me. She's always been a leader, but now she's taken on the leadership qualities of an adult."

In order to earn the Congressional Award gold medal, a participant must satisfy the following requirements:

-- Perform a minimum of 400 hours of volunteer community service.

-- Complete a minimum of 200 hours of physical fitness activities.

-- Demonstrate personal development through his or her activities.

-- Plan and carry out an "expedition", or exploratory program, requiring a five-day trip to a location with which the student is unfamiliar but through which the student learns lessons that can be applied in his or her life.

In short, Dutzi blew away those requirements, achieving much more. She has completed close to 500 hours of community service. Through her competition on the Bronco swim team and her activities with the school's AFJROTC unit, she has completed more than 1,200 hours of physical fitness. She satisfied the "personal development" requirement with her service, by taking AP courses and through dual enrollment.

And to satisfy the "expedition" requirement, she spent five days in Boston, leading tours of American history sites.

"It was an awesome experience," Dutzi said about the trip to Boston. "What better place to learn and teach about American history? For community service, I participated in many campus beautification projects in Murrieta, performed a lot of community service events through my ROTC, and donated lot of time at middle and elementary schools.

"For personal development, I challenged myself to take rigorous courses -- AP courses, dual enrollment. I wanted to better myself not only as a student but as a person. When you challenge yourself, you find your true self and your limits. That's what matters -- being the best person you can."

Dutzi said it was a long road to the gold medal, but she never considered giving up.

"It took me a long time to get my first award -- almost a year," she said. "Once I got it, I decided, 'What's the point in putting in all this work and stopping?' I'm not the type of person that quits because I'm afraid of challenging myself."

Dutzi has applied to many East Coast schools and hopes to get accepted to Harvard, where she plans to major in political science and government.

"After that, I hope to come back and intern for Congressman Ken Calvert and eventually become California's 42nd District Congresswoman," she said.

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