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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Westlake High School student council members Maranda Murray, Annie Smith and Wil Thompson help direct Deseret News/KSL Sterling Scholar finalists to their appropriate interview rooms during the 2018 finals at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — After a whirlwind trip to New York City for auditions at The Juilliard School and New York University, Lone Peak High School senior Madi Riley headed west to compete in the final judging of the 2018 Deseret News/KSL Sterling Scholar Program.

Riley played viola and answered judges’ questions as one of 168 Wasatch Front students who advanced to the final rounds of the scholarship and recognition program held Tuesday at Westlake High School.

“So I’m a little jet-lagged. It’s OK. The more the merrier,” said Riley, who plans to major in musical performance, some day seek a master's degree and teach.

Riley, who has been playing violin since age 3, took up the viola at age 8 and played both before concentrating on the viola at age 9.

Music, she said, is her “calling in life.” Riley said she aspires to find ways to support herself through music and share her passion with others.

“Every time I play, there’s just that expression, that feeling that I love,” she said.

“I love to teach people that same love and expression that I’ve been able to have in my life.”

The winners of Tuesday’s competition will be announced during a ceremony March 13 at the LDS Church Conference Center Little Theater. Students competed in 14 categories. Winners will be selected in each category and among them, a General Sterling Scholar will be chosen.

The Sterling Scholar Program was started by the Deseret News in the 1960s. It encourages academic excellence by awarding scholarships and publicly recognizing some of Utah's top high school seniors. Nominees are judged for their academic achievements as well as their leadership and service to their communities.

Hoa Tran, a senior at Cyprus High School, said it was “kind of humbling” to be selected a Sterling Scholar at the school level, let alone to be selected a finalist in the business and marketing category.

Tran, who has been admitted to the University of Utah, plans to major in business marketing and minor in photography, but also plans to take anatomy classes.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a brain surgeon, but I actually started my own business when I was a sophomore. I started enjoying the idea of being an entrepreneur, starting something from the ground up,” he said.

The business, called Sir We Are, is a multimedia company that specializes in photography, cinematography and graphic design. It has grown to a group of five entrepreneurs, fellow students whose skills complement Tran's, he said.

Some clients are fellow students who need senior portraits. Others are businesses such as restaurants that need professionally designed logos for signage and menus.

While he relishes growing a business, school comes first, he said.

“The majority of time is going to school and my free time is doing business,” he said.

It is unclear if Tran will continue down the business path, which is why he is keeping his options open to exploring medicine.

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Whatever the case, he will join his sisters as first-generation college students. His father came to the United States from Vietnam at age 13 to work. He ended up graduating from high school and had an opportunity to attend college but en route to a college scholarship interview, he was involved in a car crash with a drunken driver, which derailed his college plans.

So school is a high priority in the Tran household, particularly the opportunity to attend college and become working professionals, Tran said.

His mother recently launched a restaurant. His father is a mechanic.

Tran said he traveled to Vietnam with his father last year, which gave him a new appreciation for his father's journey, which included working to help support his family from the time he was a small boy.

“I really want to make them proud,” he said.