If the duration of this nationally recognized program is any indication, to become a Sterling Scholar means honor, prestige, recognition - and hard work, too.

For 37 years the Deseret News/KSL Television Sterling Scholar Awards Program has honored high school seniors providing well-deserved recognition for them, their teachers, their parents and their schools.The genesis of the program was in 1962, when a Deseret News staffer came up with a brilliant idea. "With all of the attention student athletes get, why don't we come up with something to recognize academic excellence as well?" he said. The Deseret News would put its resources behind the program, provide staff and management support and obtain the support of the education community to ensure success.

During the ensuing years, thousands of Utah's outstanding students have competed for the prestigious title. Now, second- and third-generation Sterling Scholars are taking their places alongside their predecessors.

The 51 high schools represented in this special section are all along the Wasatch Front. Four other regional programs in the state of Utah operate on their own schedule using slightly modified rules.

The process of become a Sterling Scholar begins for seniors at their high school. Each principal designates a Sterling Scholar coordinator. Applications are sought and selections made, usually in all 12 categories.

Next, nominees prepare a portfolio reflecting their accomplishments in scholarship, leadership and citizenship.

The portfolio is not a scrapbook but a snapshot look at a student's accomplishments during his or her high school years. Portfolios may contain no more than 24 pages and are an integral part of the judging process.

Tomorrow, the 612 individuals featured in this special section will travel to one of three host high schools, Weber, East or American Fork for a 10-minute interview with two judges.

Then the waiting and anticipation to determine who will advance to the final round begins. One hundred eighty Sterling Scholar finalists, 15 in each of the 12 categories, will advance to the final round and be announced in the Thursday edition, February 26, edition of the Deseret News.

On March 11, these finalists travel to East High for their final interview. This time, three new judges for each category review portfolios and conduct interviews to select 12 Sterling Scholars plus two runners-up in each category.

The 1998 Deseret News/KSL Television Sterling Scholar Awards Program will be held on April 1, at Cottonwood High School. Produced by KSL Television, the awards program, to which all 180 finalists and their families are invited, is lavishly staged and hosted by KSL personalities.

During the program, the 12 Sterling Scholars are announced along with the 24 runners-up. Finally, the "MVP Sterling Scholar" is announced from among the 12 winners. This prestigious award, the General Scholarship Sterling Scholar, will recognize the outstanding high school senior on the Wasatch Front.

In addition to becoming eligible for prestigious scholarships, Sterling Scholars and runners-up will share cash scholarships of nearly $20,000 provided by the Deseret News and KSL Television.

But after the money is spent in pursuit of a higher education, each winner will have in the years to come the satisfaction of always having been a Deseret News/KSL Television Sterling Scholar - and they will have taken their place alongside their forerunners from 1962 until today.