Jordan Cassetta had a difficult time eating breakfast the day she received her first Superintendent's Citizenship Award.

She was a nervous and excited Ox Ridge School fifth-grader who would go on to receive three citizenship awards during her career in the Darien school system.

As a high school senior, Cassetta, 18, still is excited to be recognized for her civility and kindness toward others.

"To be honest, I'm still really shocked," Cassetta said a week after receiving the award on June 10. "Even today, I really didn't know what to make of it. I wasn't expecting it all. I'm very honored and very thankful."

Cassetta is the only Darien student to receive the Superintendent's Citizenship Award at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Students nominate their classmates for the award, interim Superintendent Lynne Pierson said. School faculty then reviews the nominations and endorses one student from each of the elementary schools, one from the middle school and a male and female student from the high school.

"She is known by her peers and the faculty at Darien High School as one of the kindest and most caring individuals to walk the halls of DHS," Pierson said at the award ceremony on June 10. "Students have been heard to say, `Jordan is the sweetest girl I know. She has a wonderful soul and is a very special person.' "

In total, eight Darien students received the award -- one fifth-grader from each elementary school, an eighth-grader from the middle school and two seniors from the high school.

Cassetta said she has learned to be kind toward others through her role models in her life: her parents; grandparents; sister, who is a sophomore at the high school; and her dance teachers.

"The way they live life with such optimism and being accepting of others inspires me to be a friend to all," Cassetta said.

Anything anyone does has an impact on others, Cassetta said.

"When I see my family members be kind to anyone they see, whether it's a lifelong friend or a stranger on the street, it's impactful," she said.

Of course, high school has its challenges, but dealing with those challenges, Cassetta said, is when an individual's core values are important.

"The difficulties make you go back to what you really value, and that's what pushed me," Cassetta said. "I never really thought of doing it any other way."

To consider Cassetta as a creative and talented person would be an "understatement," Pierson said.

Cassetta has been involved in dance since she was in fourth grade and much of what she learned through art has influenced the rest of her life, Pierson said.

"The arts in general are so personal and everyone is so passionate and everyone has an individuality to them," Cassetta said. "That's where the whole idea of being accepting of others and encouraging people comes from."

Cassetta has worked with a host of different kinds of people through dance at the Darien Arts Center, from those as young as 4 to women in their 80s to individuals with disabilities.

"I love seeing how happy (dance) makes them," Cassetta said "It brings such joy to people, whether they're watching it or doing it."

Cassetta plans to study dance and art at James Madison University in the fall.

"Her quiet strength is inspirational to others," Pierson said.

Even as a senior, Cassetta was honored to be chosen for the award and said she even got tears in her eyes when she found out she had been selected for a third time.

"I really like the idea of being someone that anyone can talk to at any point," Cassetta said. "I guess that's really important to me."; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews