Renata Stiehl, the assistant news director for WENY TV, was the guest speaker Tuesday at Towanda Junior/Senior High School's Academic Achievement Awards Banquet.

Stiehl, who is a member of Towanda High School class of 2000 and the co-anchor of two main evening newscasts for WENY TV News in Horseheads, N.Y., recalled spending every Friday night in Towanda at the Keystone Theatre, at Beer's Roller Rink, or performing as a K-dette at a Towanda High School football game.

She said she was "a bit of a news junkie," reading The Daily Review every day, and watching the nightly news on television. One day she decided that she wanted to be the one who would learn about events and tell a television audience about them.

Stiehl said that her experience on Towanda High's forensics team was important to her development.

"It gave me the confidence to speak in front of an audience and gave me the ability to think on my feet," she said.

"My life didn't take the path I thought it would, but it worked out exactly like it was supposed to," she said. For example, she said, the only college she applied to was Lock Haven University, which she had her heart set on attending, but she ended up being denied admission by the school.

So she attended Mansfield University, a school she did not want to go to, but found she loved it.

"It was a blessing in disguise," she said.

Later on, after completing an internship at WENY, she felt confident that she would get picked for the first opening in broadcast journalism at the station.

"I had worked hard," she said. "I thought I was a natural shoe-in."

But the station passed her over for the first opening that she wanted. And for the second opening.

Six months later, she was offered a behind-the-scenes job in the station's news department that she didn't really want, but accepted.

Over the next seven years at the station, she worked her way up, holding "just about every job in the station" and acquiring skills along the way.

"If you do something a little outside your experience and comfort zone, you'll learn something," she said.

Tuesday's banquet honored the 10 Towanda High seniors with the highest GPA over their high school career.

Stiehl said she wouldn't have been in the top ten academically in her class, or even close to making the top 10.

"I was a good student, but I didn't necessarily apply myself all the time," she said.

Today, Stiehl is an award-winning journalist and news producer, having received awards for her work from the New York Associated Press Broadcasters Association.

While Towanda students may feel like there aren't a lot of opportunities for themselves in a small town like Towanda, "you can create opportunities for yourself later on," she said.

Stiehl encouraged the students to continue to read throughout their lives and to volunteer.

Reading "stretches the imagination and expands your vocabulary" and gives you an experience that movies and television can't, she said.

Stiehl has volunteered over the years for organizations such as the Children's Miracle Network and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and she said that volunteering can give you "an amazing feeling you will never forget."

The 10 students honored Tuesday night "are being honored for their academic achievements, but as you can see, they are high achievers in all aspects, both in and out of school," said Steve Gobble, superintendent of schools.

Kyle Lane, the president-elect of the Towanda Rotary Club, said the 10 students achieving what they did was "a team effort, (due to) great parents, great teachers and great students. We want to keep that ... going on and on," he said.

Tuesday's banquet was hosted by the Towanda Rotary Club, Memorial Hospital, and the Towanda School District. The banquet was held at the hospital's Personal Care Home.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: