THEY caught the judges' attention with their passion, dedication and hard work both inside and outside the classroom.
Now, with less than a month to go before the winners of The Herald Matric of the Year competition are announced, the race is on to see who will be crowned the Eastern Cape's top matric pupil.
For these matric pupils, being selected as finalists is reward enough for their outstanding performance and winning the competition would be the cherry on top.
This week, we introduce the 20 finalists – four daily – who stand a chance to walk away with the coveted title and great prizes, chief of which is a bursary for the overall winner and paid tuition for the scholarship award winner.
Sara Finestone, 18, of Pearson High School, is "an extremely mature, vivacious young lady with an indefinite zest and energy for life".
So said principal Andre van Staden in the testimonial submitted with her application.
Sara has strong leadership qualities, evidenced by her being a class leader, prefect and vice-president of the students representative council. She represented the school at the Global Youth Leaders Conference in New York, where she was given an award for outstanding leadership after coming in the top eight out of 350 pupils from all over the world.
She excels on the sports field, having represented Eastern Province in six different sports, and is a keen diver.
Sara has held lead roles in school productions and received awards for drama.
She is fluent in three languages – English, Afrikaans and German – and spends three months of the year in Germany on an exchange programme.
After finishing her matric, she plans to study a BSc at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).
"I'm highly honoured that I made it this far in the competition," Sara said.
"I'm excited because of the fact that I get to represent my school as I am a proud Pearsonite."
Devin Stickells, 18, of Grey High School, has always been a top academic achiever, coming first in the grade every year from Grade 7 to Grade 11.
He is a school and house prefect and vice-captain and captain of the fourth and fifth hockey teams respectively.
Devin serves on both the Grey Union – the school's community service wing – and Student Christian Association committees.
He is the staff- sergeant in the cadet detachment and chairman of the photographic society.
An avid mountain biker, he was part of the Grey High Cycle Tour, which helped raise funds to build a school in the Transkei.
He has received numerous top awards in Maths and English olympiads and is the executive production editor of the school magazine, Grey Matter.
Devin was described as a true example of a pupil who has it all – academic, sports, culture, leadership, community service and a "fantastic sense of humour".
He will go on to study mechatronics at NMMU or the University of Cape Town (UCT) next year and ultimately go into biomedical engineering.
"I wanted to be a doctor like my dad and shadowed him once and found the job so monotonous, so I decided on biomedical engineering. My dream is to one day create a prosthetic eye," he said.
Janine Sahd, 18, of Queenstown Girls' High School, heads up a number of school departments, including her boarding house.
She is the deputy head girl, vice-president of the interact club and vice-captain of the second hockey team.
She is a board member on the Project Committee and the school governing body.
Janine helps to coach the under-9 hockey team at Balmoral Girls' Primary once a week and has raised R1000 for the Top Town Schools in Queenstown.
She has won a number of awards for art, drama and photography.
She is a diligent and focused person who would make a success of any endeavour, her school said of her.
Despite this, she did not expect to make it on to the list of finalists.
"But it's made me so proud of myself and so are my parents. It made me realise that anything is possible," she said.
She will study architecture "wherever they accept me".
Hendrik Louw, 18, of Despatch High School, was described as a passionate, reliable, hardworking and goal- orientated young man.
He is an athlete who has provincial colours and numerous awards from Athletics South Africa.
He helps out at the Sonneblom branch of the ATKV, which provides soup kitchens and visits patients at the oncology unit at Dora Nginza Hospital.
He leads tenors in the school choir and is an editorial member of the school's newspaper.
Hendrik wants to study civil engineering either at the University of Pretoria or UCT.
"I still can't believe that I'm a finalist. Winning the overall title or being a category winner would give me a great sense of self-accomplishment," Hendrik said.