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Busy scholar is the real thing

Graduating Barker High School senior Matthew Sweeney has been awarded a $10,000 college Regional Coca-Cola Scholarship. He's the first Niagara County recipient to receive this award in nearly a quarter-century.

Sweeney, a member of the 22nd class of Coca-Cola Scholars, has demonstrated academic and civic excellence in his school and community.

"Matthew Sweeney's part of a diverse group of extraordinary high school seniors who've shown an unwavering commitment to educational excellence, leadership and service to the school and community," Claude Nielsen, chairman of the board of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and CEO of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United, said in a statement. "Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is proud to name Sweeney as a 2010 Coca-Cola Regional Scholar."

Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, an effort of Coca-Cola bottlers across America, is one of the largest corporate-sponsored, achievement-based scholarship programs in the country.

Sweeney, who has held a near-perfect average (seventh in his class at this writing), and served as a cross country, track and basketball team leader, was chosen from an initial applicant pool of nearly 70,000 students. He interviewed with a national selection committee representing education, business, government and arts leaders from across the nation earlier in the year in Atlanta.

In addition, Sweeney, 17, played Bobby Child, the lead, in this year's school musical, "Crazy for You."

During his Scholars Weekend, he also was recognized at a banquet. Nationally acclaimed educator Ron Clark gave the keynote address. Sweeney, who pitches in on his family's century-old, 150-acre Appleton dairy farm and plans to go to Cornell University, participated in seminars, toured local landmarks and conducted a rain-barrel collection community service project with Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Sweeney graduates Saturday in Barker High's Herbert F. Ludwig Auditorium.

>How did you learn you won this scholarship -- what was that like?

I learned I won through e-mail, and I was very excited. I'll be able to assist in paying for my education.

Receiving this award has been great. I feel honored to be one of the graduating high school seniors who traveled to Atlanta to experience the Scholars Weekend. This scholarship will greatly help me with my college expenses at Cornell in the fall. I've also won some other scholarships that'll help, too.

>Do you get the money all at once -- how does the scholarship work?

Funds are sent directly to the college, and the award is broken up into $2,500 a year -- for a total of $10,000 over four years.

>How do you manage to do so much?

Learning from my many mentors -- like Barker School Superintendent Roger Klatt -- and other role models, I've been taught to effectively manage my time, to be a part of the numerous activities I'm involved in. I enjoy participating in athletics, academics and my musical pursuits.

I've got an extremely busy schedule, and I enjoy participating in every activity. To partake in all my events, I always try to juggle all of my activities and give them equal time. I love being involved in so many different organizations and sports, as they provide me with both educational and athletic opportunities. At school, I had a full schedule with Advanced Placement, honors and music classes. My days were very full. I try my best to manage my time and succeed at each level. Even on weekends, I'm up at 6 in the morning. On the nights I played sports, sometimes I wouldn't get home until 11 at night.

>Your biggest challenge?

So far, my biggest challenge has been juggling all the different activities, organizations and athletics I've been involved in. I enjoy this challenge because it helps me with time management and becoming a well-rounded individual. In my scholarship interviews, I learned that community service sets students apart.

>That's a good tip for future scholarship applicants. Who inspires you?

I'm mostly inspired by my family, because they are extremely supportive. I look to them for guidance and leadership. When I am on my breaks from college, and over the summer, I still plan to be very involved in my family. I love working with my animals and going to fairs across the state to showcase them. I plan to go to three fairs this summer -- the Niagara County Fair, the Erie County Fair and the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

>Tell us about your animals?

Living on my family dairy farm, Maple View, I personally have about 20 registered Ayrshire dairy cows. They range from two days to 11 years old. My dad [John] has been a farmer so long that the cows recognize him! I also raise a pig -- Lily -- for the annual auction at the fair, and this year I became involved in the beef program and I have a steer for the fair auction as well. I love my animals and traveling to fairs across the state to show my cows, pigs and steers. It's so much fun. I learn a lot at the fairs.

>Being around milk so much, we bet the Coke weekend was a real change?

In Atlanta, every Coca-Cola product, from the Coke to the vitamin water and Dasani, was all free. Vending machines were full of products, and every machine was free and available to all the scholars and employees -- very accessible.

>A teen dream -- now what do you want to do after college?

After I graduate from Cornell in 2014, I'd love to be a helping hand in the farm, but I don't plan on running it in the future. My younger brother, Christopher, is very excited to be a fifth-generation dairy farmer. We both love the farm.

>You already have your college graduation mapped out -- what will you be majoring in at Cornell?

I'm supposed to be starting classes by the end of August. At Cornell, I'll be majoring in Agricultural Science Education through the College of Agriculture and Life Science. I'm excited to be taking courses like Dairy Science and Intro to Agriculture.

>And what career are you considering?

I'd like to get a job as a teacher in a school system or as an extension agent at Cornell Cooperative Extension. I'm excited to educate children and adults about the agriculture industry. I have an extremely busy schedule, and I enjoy participating in every activity. In college I hope to play "club" sports.

>Anything else we haven't hit upon?

I'd like to thank all my family, friends, teachers and staff at Barker Central School, role models and mentors. They've taught me and shaped me into the individual I am today. I've learned to be more sociable and a better public speaker.

Have an idea for a question-and-answer column? Write to Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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