A Niceville 5th grader was recognized by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week for her essay honoring her grandfather’s journey to America and his family’s extensive military service.
Norah Hall, 10, was one of just fourteen students statewide who received prizes as part of DeSantis’ Hispanic Heritage Month contest. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Florida’s Hispanic Heroes and Their Contributions to Freedom.”
- Winners (including Norah) received a two-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation and a $100 gift card for school supplies.
In a personal essay, Hall said she was born at Eglin Air Force Base in 2013. She attends James E. Plew Elementary and seeks “academic excellence,” earning good grades through hard work. Hall described her “unique talents” in writing, art, dance and passion for continual growth.
Even at 10-years old, Hall already has plans to attend the Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College. She then aims to pursue advanced degrees, possibly up to a doctorate. Hall wrote that she may become a gemologist, architect, indoor/outdoor designer or fashion designer. But notes that she has many interests and ideas to still explore.
- “When I was 3 years old, I came home with rocks in my pocket from the daycare playground,” Hall wrote. “I continue to collect rocks, gems today that are rare.”
In her 500-word contest essay, Hall paid tribute to her Hispanic grandfather, Oscar Valenzuela Sr. He moved from Juarez, Mexico to Laredo, Texas at age 12 speaking only Spanish.
“In August 1977, at the age of 20, he became an American Citizen, to stay with his family, being sworn in at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,” Hall wrote.
Soon after, Valenzuela Sr. traveled to Wichita, Kansas where he met Hall’s grandmother, Dolores Valenzuela. “Abuelo was still learning to speak English,” Hall noted. This August, the couple celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.
The Valenzuelas had five children, four of whom joined the U.S. Armed Forces. Hall’s mother, Juliet, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1999-2004, including a tour in South Korea.
- “For me, a hero is an ordinary individual who always perseveres during challenging times,” Hall wrote. “My Abuelo is a hero because he never gave up, teaching himself to read, write English, and start his own business in Florida.”
Hall said her grandfather became a Floridian in 2017. She recalled fond memories of him telling her stories and playing games.
“When Abuelo came to America he became a ‘Seed’ for a Tree that grew to positively impact almost every aspect of American Life through his children,” Hall concluded. “Abuelo’s Children of this Tree became servants for our Great Nation! The accomplishments they achieved benefitted not only for Floridians, but our entire Nation.”
Norah’s parents could not be more proud her daughter.
“She’s our only child and I’ve always put in 150% as a mother to help guide her and prepare her for our world,” said Juliet Hall. “She’s thriving and excelling in all she touches. So this essay contest was just another opportunity for her to pour her heart into. Norah gives 200% when she sets her mind to any task and does her best.”
During her visit to Governor’s Mansion last week, Norah was not only joined by her parents, but also her grandparents. The family was able to tour the Governor’s mansion for 90-minutes where Norah even did cartwheels in the backyard.
“Norah’s Abuelo (Grandpa/my father) was so honored after he read her essay it literally brought tears to his eyes,” recalled Juliet Hall. “Tears of joy and also probably nostalgia from when he was a 12-year-old boy entering America.”
Okaloosa Superintendent of School Marcus Chambers was “incredibly proud” of Norah on her achievement.
- “This recognition is a remarkable achievement for Norah,” he told Get The Coast. “She is an outstanding representative of Okaloosa County and the Panhandle, and our school District is incredibly proud of her.”