ST. PETERSBURG — Two endured the death of a parent at a young age. Another overcame a rare disease.
The three students have been named recipients of the 2018 Barnes Scholarship, an annual award sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times Fund and named after the former chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Co., Andrew Barnes.
The award, granted to high school seniors who have overcome significant adversity and achieved excellence, is worth up to $15,000 annually for four years at an accredited U.S. college or university. The program has sent 73 students to college since it started in 1999.
The winners will be recognized at a luncheon on April 24. These are their stories:
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When Morgan Buchanan was 7 years old, her father took his life. Her mother was arrested for selling narcotics when Buchanan was 8. And her teenage sister was later arrested for following a similar path.
But Buchanan said she refused to accept that as her fate.
"It was expected for me to do the same," she said. "I think that’s what kind of drove me to do what I’ve done and have the goals that I have. I grew up quickly."
Buchanan serves as student council senior class president at Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, president of the math team and vice president of the National Honor Society. She has a 4.63 GPA and has also played soccer, volunteered with several community organizations and works at a doctor’s office.
She hopes to go to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, become an anesthesiologist and do medical research on antibiotics.
"I want to be in a position where I’m using my brain every day, something where I can have ideas and put them to use and can maybe benefit the world," Buchanan said.
At 8 years old, ErrDaisha Floyd lost her father to a brain tumor. Her mother raised her and three older siblings.
In 2012, Floyd’s mother, who had dropped out of high school, lost her job. So she got her GED, entered community college, got a degree and recently found a new job.
"I had the greatest childhood in terms of what my mom was able to provide me," Floyd said. "She gave me her very best. Seeing my mom so dedicated to education and improving our lives, it really pushed me to want to go to the best college I could because I was the one that could."
Floyd serves as vice president of Hillsborough High School’s speech and debate team, won the Miss Teenage Tampa Scholarship, graduated from Community Tampa Bay’s Anytown program and is a member of the Mayor’s Youth Corps. The International Baccalaureate student also has a 7.0 GPA and was accepted early into Columbia University.
Floyd hopes to later go to law school and become a civil rights attorney, focusing on reforming the prison system and ending mass incarceration.
"The majority are people who messed up and didn’t have the right resources," she said. "They need people to expand care, compassion and concern to them as well."
Vanessa Toro remembers visiting family in Colombia during winter break at 10 years old when she suddenly fell ill. She was rushed to a hospital where she was told she had a rare, but curable, disease that would require a pediatric rheumatologist.
The only problem was that there were only two specialists in the whole country and they’d had to travel to see her, Toro said. The experience left her astonished about health care systems in different parts of the world.
"In that moment I wanted to do something just like those doctors did for me," she said.
Toro serves as secretary of the Science National Honor Society at Land O’Lakes High School, vice president of the psychology club and volunteered as a teaching assistant for special-needs students at a local parish while working. She has a 4.64 GPA and hopes to attend Duke University and later go to medical school.
"I want to further my education, and make my family proud, and put a spotlight on all the Latinos out there that aren’t really promoted and highlighted as much as others, and encourage them," she said. "I want to make the outside population aware but also the Hispanic community themselves aware that they are capable of getting to where they want to be."
Seven students were selected as finalists and will receive a one-time scholarship of $1,000. They are: Jenna Callison, Hillsborough High School; Courtney Corlett, Gulf High School; Randy Lambert, Boca Ciega High School; Kon Lueth, Countryside High School; Evelyn Martinez, Academy of the Holy Names; Andres Nino, Palm Harbor University High School; and Alison Pager, Hernando High School.