A is for awe-inspiring at Zephyrhills High School
KERI WIGINTON | Times
Valedictorian Luke Thomas, 17, puts in 30 to 35 hours a week at Ben’s Car Wash. He has earned a full ride to the University of Pennsylvania.
He has landed a full ride at an Ivy League school: the University of Pennsylvania. Some might say Luke Thomas faces a tough road ahead, but he already knows the meaning of a hard day's work.
Besides attending Zephyrhills High and Pasco-Hernando Community College, Luke puts in 30 to 35 hours a week as an assistant manager and detailer at Ben's Car Wash on Gall Boulevard.
"It's hard juggling all that," said Luke, adding that he has to punch out at 6 p.m. twice a week and head straight to classes at PHCC. "I pay for all my stuff. Car insurance, clothes, cell phone and gas money. And I'm saving for expenses at college."
Going to the University of Pennsylvania is a dream come true. "It's where I really wanted to go. It has the best business school in the nation."
Luke was determined to get there, working hard at everything while dealing with a crisis at home. About a year ago, his father, Gary, was diagnosed with colon cancer and has been in and out of the hospital ever since with complications. His mother, Colleen, works two jobs to keep things afloat.
So going to Penn comes with some mixed feelings.
"I kind of don't want to be that far away from my dad. But my parents are supportive. They want me to go," Luke said. "This has definitely been an experience. I guess it's been a way of preparing me for life. What I have in front of me is probably easier than what I have right now."
Zephyrhills' salutatorian, Abbi Chaffin, got a taste of missionary work a few years ago. That and the fact that she has wanted to be a doctor "ever since I was little" have propelled her.
Abbi has ventured to Anderson, S.C., Jonesboro Beach, Ga., and Fort Walton Beach with other members of First Baptist Church of Wesley Chapel. This summer she'll do mission work in New Orleans, and in 2009, she's off to Brazil.
Doing construction work and conducting backyard Bible classes for kids in impoverished areas is rewarding, Abbi said.
"Some of these kids don't even realize that there are people out there that care about them," she said. "And the parents — when we go to their houses, they are so amazed that teenagers care. It's great to break that stereotype."
© 2016 Tampa Bay Times
Zephyrhills High Valedictorian | Luke Thomas
GPA: 4.57 (weighted)
Future school: University of Pennsylvania
Ideal career: Undecided
Most inspirational person: My mother, Colleen Thomas, because of the strength and integrity she has displayed throughout my father's battle with cancer.
Best advice or quote: "The secret to success is constancy to purpose" — Benjamin Disraeli.
Favorite place on campus: The commons area because it is a place where I can socialize with my peers, thus relieving stresses from my academics.
Favorite book: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.
Clubs/extracurriculars: National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, Interact Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, basketball, golf, work at Ben's Car Wash.
If you could, what would you change about the Pasco County or Florida education system? Produce a test that would more accurately assess a student's academics than the FCAT.
Salutatorian | Kristin "Abbi" Chaffin
GPA: 4.46 (weighted)
Future school: Oxford at Emory University
Major: Premedical, chemistry or biology
Ideal career: Missionary surgeon in South America
Most inspirational person/people: My mommy, Lisa Chaffin, and my daddy, Dan Chaffin. Both of them gave up the possibility of having more money in order to help their community and personally raise their five kids. They taught me that people are more important than paychecks.
Best advice or quote: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom" — James 3:13.
Favorite place on campus: The Bulldog Inn because it allows upperclassmen to congregate and eat together in a cozy restaurantlike environment.
Favorite book: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.
Clubs/extracurriculars; National Honor Society (president), Interact Club (vice president), Dogo Spanish Music Club, Showstoppers Show Choir, Souled Out Student Minorities Youth Band (captain), teacher's assistant at Wesley Chapel Christian Preschool.
If you could, what would you change about the Pasco County or Florida education system? I wish the Florida education system would incorporate more career training and vocational opportunities for students not planning on attending college rather than focusing on making all students pass the FCAT, a standardized college-preparatory test that some will never need. I believe this will liberate more funding to go toward advanced courses for college-bound students and provide better options for all students. I believe this plan will also reduce the dropout rate immensely.