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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Christopher Madsen, from West Jordan High School, sighs as it is announced he wins the Music category at the Sterling Scholars awards program at Cottonwood High School Wednesday, March 21, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

MURRAY — Anisa Mughal looked stunned Wednesday as she realized her name was about to be read as the 2012 General Sterling Scholar for the Wasatch Front Region.

She was tipped off when it was announced that the overall winner of the prestigious scholarship competition was the Regional Sterling Scholar for foreign language, an honor that the Skyline senior won earlier that night.

Mughal put the pieces together just before her name was called, but her face still carried a look of disbelief even after the applause subsided.

"I'm completely overwhelmed," she said after the ceremony. "I wasn't expecting the best."

Clearly she should have, but it was easy to see why she felt the competition at her heels when her company on stage at Cottonwood High School included the best high school seniors of Utah's public school system. The accomplishments of the evening's 13 regional winners and two special award recipients included local, state and national awards, perfect grade point averages and ACT scores, Eagle Scout awards, student body office, volunteer service, athletic accomplishments and pending patents.

"They have accomplished so much in their lives," said Kevin Eubank, who shared hosting duties with KSL-TV anchor Nadine Wimmer.

The evening was the culmination of a months-long process that whittled down more than 700 students from high schools along the Wasatch Front to the final 13 regional winners and awarded nearly $48,000 in scholarships. Those 13 regional scholars received a $2,000 scholarship, with two runners-up in each category receiving $700 and two special award winners receiving $500. Mughal, as the General Sterling Scholar was awarded an addition $2,500.

Hillcrest High School took home both special awards. The Doublas F. Bates Community Service Award was given to Megan Dolle, a finalist in the science category, and the Philo T. Farnsworth Governors Excellence Award was given to Ryan Baker, a finalist for mathematics.

Before the winners in each category were revealed, the hosts would describe the students' particular qualifications. Often, their reactions to hearing their lives told through were enough to tip off the audience, like computer technology Regional Scholar Sean Whalen of Brighton High, who tried to fight the beaming smile that quickly spread across his face when he knew he had won.

A short statement by each winner was also read as part of their introduction by the hosts. Natalie Barnes of Bountiful High, who won for dance, in her biography said "the moment I hear music I can't help but move."

West Jordan High student Christopher Madsen, who won for music, said in his statement that the greatest thing he could do with the gift of music that he had been given was share it with others. He has already produced a CD of original piano music and is the choral director for his church.

The Wasatch Region Sterling Scholar awards is in its 51st year and is presented by the Deseret News and KSL. Students are judged based on scholarship, leadership and service. For the full list of winners go to www.sterlingscholar.org.

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