Reaching for Excellence: Emily’s story

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- All of the outstanding young people we honor and report on in our weekly Reaching 4 Excellence feature are remarkable in some way. And some of them are extraordinary in many ways, and a two-minute television news story just doesn't do them justice. So it is with this week's Fox 4 Young Achiever -- who merits a documentary.

She's a terrific young artist, polishing her creative skills now in painting and drawing and other media. But Emily Duncan is especially adept at graphic design, a wizard at using the artistic capabilities of the computer, something she discovered as a sophomore in a class at Liberty High School.

"All of a sudden," says Emily, "art met the real world and had real world implications."

Emily's confidence as an artist took a giant leap last year. She was named Missouri high school champion and national top 10 finalist in the annual "Doodle 4 Google" art contest. Emily designed a Google logo centered on the Paris World's Fair of 1900 and it won a special award for artistic merit.

"That kind of affirmation is definitely something that will -- it really set me on the right track," says Emily.

Emily's stunning artistry isn't limited to just canvas, paper and digital screens. She's a gifted musician, a four year all district and state and nationally-recognized cellist and section leader in the Liberty High symphonic orchestra all four years of high school. She's an artist with the books, too, ranked first academically in her graduating class of 475. And Emily has piled up the service hours with tireless work for school, church and community organizations.

"She has just great integrity," says Liberty High School Guidance Counselor Kathy Alagna. "And along with that she has the softer skills of time management and perseverance. And she really knows what her goals are and she does what she needs to do, too, to achieve them."

"I was kind of playing around and I thought I might as well write a children's book," says Emily, showing her little book of art terms at her art display full of recent works exhibited in the lobby of Liberty High School.

And now to the really amazing part of Emily's many accomplishments. She's done it all while having to cope with serious health issues.

"Well, my family has had our share of medical inconveniences," says Emily with a little smile.

Emily has Type 1 diabetes and in sixth grade she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a lifelong autoimmune condition involving medical gluten intolerance. It eventually forced her to give up the multiple sports she loved and played year-round. What's more, her mother has battled cancer.

Emily takes it in all stride.

"It's a part of my life and something I have to deal with but it's not my story," says Emily. "It's not something that defines me." Instead, what defines Emily is an insatiable desire to make the absolute most of all her wonderful talents and intellect -- and make sure she does the most good with them.

"In the end it has led me to a wonderful place in my life I'm so happy to be," says Emily. Now that's a story.

Emily certainly has impressed Washington University in St. Louis. One of the nation's leading universities, "Wash U" has named her a Danforth Scholar and awarded her a full-tuition scholarship valued at well over $40,000 a year. Emily will use it to study Communication Design this fall.

Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.

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