The St. Mary’s County Arts Council presented three $1,000 awards to recently graduated high school seniors who are pursuing the arts in higher education. The Arts Council has established these awards to recognize, encourage, and support individuals who demonstrate excellence and a high level of interest in the Performing, Theater, or Visual Arts. This year’s recipients include:

Performing Arts (music/ vocal): Layla James of Leonardtown High School

Credit: Layla James

 Layla is an amazingly talented self-taught vocalist who has been singing “ever since I can remember”. Miss James has shared her talents at numerous fundraisers, community events, holiday gatherings, church events, and at many other opportunities.

Layla very much enjoys sharing her gift with others and hopes to serve as an inspiration to those who have enjoyed her music and aspire to reach goals of their own.

She has often been accompanied by her younger sister Lacey to sing the national anthem at Leonardtown High School sporting events. Layla will continue her education at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia.

Film/ Audio-visual: Grady O’Neill of Chopticon High School

Credit: Grady O’Neill

As a student enrolled at Chopticon High School and also at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center, Grady learned many valuable skills that have helped him in the future of production work such as camera operation, video editing, and working in teams on numerous projects.

O’Neill has won several awards through his participation in SkillsUSA at both state and national levels. As well as being an exceptional academic student, Grady is also known for being a student who will help others out at any time. Grady will continue his studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Performing Arts (music/ instrumental): Nolen Willey of Great Mills High School

Credit: Nolen Willey

Nolen has played an important part of the drumline section of the marching band for Great Mills High School for many years, often serving as a mentor for younger students and readily taking on leadership roles. Not only a talented musician, but Nolen is also known for his dedication to his art form by ways of many hours of practicing and preparing, performing volunteer work, and always seeking ways to improve his skill set.

Through much determination and devotion, Willey earned the coveted title of Drumline Captain for the Great Mills High School Marching Hornets. Nolen will continue his education at Towson University in Maryland.

Congratulations to all three amazing student artists! These scholarships are offered on an annual basis, visit for info and details about future opportunities for St. Mary’s County students.

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