Hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school students dressed in their Sunday best gathered at St. Mary's Help of Christians over the weekend to be recognized for their outstanding moral attitudes in the annual Celebration of Character.

The event, which is held by the Joint Women's Clubs of Aiken, recognizes hundreds of students from public, private, and homeschool institutions for outstanding moral character.

"Character is what you’re doing when nobody’s looking," said Aiken Woman's Club Chairperson Betty Thompson. "It’s doing the right thing when you don’t expect to get an award for it, except in this case, you do."

Thompson said Celebration of Character is the way of the Joint Women's Clubs of Aiken's way of recognizing Aiken as a "character-first city." 

The event was first created in 2001. In the two decades since then, almost 5,000 students in Aiken have been recognized for their strong character. Around 230 students who were nominated by teachers received awards this year.

"These are the kids we can look forward to having a good future for all of us," Thompson said. "Of all the awards the kids get, this one is actually as much an award for their parents as it is them, because their parents are the ones that have installed the good character."

One such 'proud momma' was Brandi Flores, whose daughter, McKinley, was nominated by her teacher at Warrenville Elementary School.

"I’m going to let her do the talking," Brandi said. "I get emotional just thinking about it."

McKinley said it was "kind of a surprise" when her teacher told her she'd been selected for the award.

"It’s really exciting," McKinley said. "My teacher chose me out of all the kids in my class."

Several city officials such as Aiken mayor Rick Osbon and Aiken city manager Stuart Bedenbaugh handed out awards at the event. They were joined by Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.