Pequot Lakes senior Colette Vavpotic doesn't let anything hold her back from success.

Her positivity, strong work ethic and determination to overcome challenges earned her honors from the National Joint Powers Alliance as one of this year's Rising Stars.

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The award honors seniors from Region 5 high schools who may not always get recognition for their accomplishments. These behind-the-scenes students are nominated by school staff members for being "unsung heroes" of sorts.

Pequot Lakes special education teacher Sara Crabb-Erickson described Vavpotic as a "super hard worker" who "has wonderful manners, is respectful" and is "just a good person through and through."

Vavpotic, who moved to the lakes area from Chicago in her freshman year to start high school in Pequot Lakes, struggles with a reading disability but doesn't let that stop her from making the B-honor roll with all regular classes.

Last fall she spent an hour a day volunteering in Crabb-Erickson's special education classroom working with students with developmental cognitive disabilities.

"She's awesome with the population I work with," Crabb-Erickson said. "She's reliable; she's responsible; she's kind of everything you hope your kids are when they're her age."

For Vavpotic, the Rising Star award is a proud accomplishment.

"It feels good," she said. "I walk through the halls, and teachers are saying how proud they are of me."

It's also a testament to her growth since becoming a Patriot, as she described a less-than-stellar school experience in Illinois.

"When I first started (here), I was very shy. I was completely different to what I am now, but it's a good change," she said. "I feel that my four years has been a very good four years here in Minnesota."

High school principal Aaron Nelson agrees.

"Colette embodies the values of a commitment to the care and support of the Patriot student community. Every day, Colette brings a smile and a genuine desire to help others succeed in achieving the success that is a hallmark of Pequot Lakes," Nelson wrote on Vavpotic's nomination form. "Her positive attitude, work ethic, friendliness and perseverance are second to none. ... Colette is a bright spot in the school day on a daily basis."

After graduation Vavpotic plans to spend two years at Central Lakes College completing her generals and then move on to a four-year university and eventually work for the Department of Natural Resources, possibly in the fisheries department, as she loves everything outdoors.

Vavpotic received a $500 scholarship from CLC for being named a Rising Star.