Reilly Graney

Auburn High School senior Reilly Graney, 18, was awarded the Ruth and Charles B. Goldman Memorial Scholarship.

Auburn High School senior Reilly Graney said witnessing history in the nation's capital two years ago changed her life.

Graney, 18, and a group attended the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, 2017, and then the Women's March protest held in Washington the next day. Graney said one person she was with for both events had liberal views, and another person leaned conservative. Graney was struck by how both people respected the other's opinion during the trip. 

"Seeing two very different but important parts of the democratic process was very impactful," Graney said.

Since that trip, Graney had been thinking about the importance of respect and communication in political discourse — and the essay required to be considered for the Ruth and Charles B. Goldman Memorial Scholarship provided an outlet for her to write about that. 

On June 5, Graney was announced as the winner of the honor during a scholarship ceremony at Auburn High. The scholarship is given annually to an Auburn senior who demonstrates an interest in public affairs at the local or national level. She will receive $1,000 toward her first year of college.

Jay Goldman, the organizer of the scholarship, said it is named after his parents, who were lifelong Auburn residents before they died and were "dedicated to the betterment of the Auburn community." Their family and friends fund the scholarship. Graney's sister, Reagan Graney, won the scholarship in 2017.

Reilly's grades in school, her essay and her civic involvement distinguished her from other students, Goldman said. Every applicant had to write an essay on their interest or involvement in public affairs. He said Graney's piece, which is about the importance of finding a middle ground politically with others while still stating one's opinion, was mature and thoughtful. Goldman praised Graney's call for communication in the essay, and said he believed his parents would have appreciated "the personal characteristics that Reilly exhibits: smart, passionate, responsible and a young person."

Graney said she was surprised and humbled by her scholarship win. She feels respect is critical to discourse today.

"When we come together, that's when we get things done," she said.

That said, Graney also argued in her essay that it is not unpatriotic to adopt a stance on a topic. If everyone "went down the middle" all the time, she added, discourse would not feature any diversity in thought.

"I think that throughout our nation's whole history, having opinions has been a big part of our political culture," she said.

The high school senior said her parents, Joe and Michelle "Sheli" Graney, have long emphasized the acceptance of different opinions.

Graney said she is heading to Villanova University in Pennsylvania in the fall, as she is thinking about majoring in biology and pursuing a pre-med track.

Goldman said he was also impressed by Graney's community involvement, such as her work with the Seward House Museum. She said that because Reagan had been a volunteer there, Reilly had been familiar with the building and had been on tours there. She added that she has always enjoyed "seeing the history that was present in my hometown."

Zach Finn, the museum's education and outreach coordinator, said Graney is a dependable helping hand. For an event last month that celebrated the birthday of William H. Seward, the museum's former resident and secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln, Graney spent long hours working, was flexible about where she assisted and did it all without a word of complaint, Finn said.

"It's very impressive, and I think it demonstrates a lot of maturity," he said.

Sheli Graney said she was thrilled to see her daughter acknowledged. Sheli thanked the Goldman family for the honor and the financial support.

"She's got a long and expensive road ahead, and we are beyond thrilled we're going to have some help," Sheli said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.