SPRING HILL — Ricardo Sabater is only in seventh grade, but already he is set financially for attending any public college or university in Florida.
For that, the 13-year-old can thank a generous scholarship program, his own writing prowess and the late Gov. Lawton Chiles.
The Fox Chapel Middle School student entered an essay contest sponsored by My Foundation — The Florida Prepaid College Fund, calling for participants to write about the Florida governor of their choice. He decided on Chiles.
His four-paragraph essay impressed the judges so much that he won the top prize: The Governor's Recognition Scholarship. Valued at nearly $16,000, the scholarship covers four years of tuition and local fees at any Florida public university. He will be awarded the scholarship today at his school.
Ricardo chose Chiles because, he said, he liked that Chiles fought tobacco companies and championed for mothers and babies. "He is well known for starting Florida's Healthy Start program in 1992. This program focused its attention on prenatal care for mothers and babies," he wrote.
As for the tobacco companies, Ricardo wrote, "Chiles was not afraid to take on big business when the result would be better for the people of Florida."
Ricardo has only been in Florida for this school year, having moved here from upstate New York in August. He lives with his mother, Suleica Sabater, and younger brother R'Mani. His father, Ricardo Sabater Sr., lives in Miami but remains a supportive figure in the younger Ricardo's life.
He plans to attend Springstead High School and take dual enrollment and advanced placement classes. After high school, Ricardo said he is interested in attending the University of South Florida, where he would like to study genetic engineering.
"The scholarship is the best opportunity I have of being able to attend college after high school,'' Ricardo told the scholarship organizers. "I would love to go to college, and be the first one in my family to graduate."
Ricardo looks up to a scientist he calls an inventor and writer. "My hero's Robert Lanza," Ricardo said. "He works for Advanced Cell Technology."
The company, he said, researches organs and cloning. Ricardo has seen Dr. Lanza on the Science Channel and has researched him on the Internet.
Ricardo's own hobbies include writing. "I write fiction stories," he said. And besides watching the Science Channel, he enjoys doing research and hanging out with friends.
He has lofty ambitions. "I would like to discover something," he said. "I want my name in history."
Kelley Zenchuk is Ricardo's advanced language arts teacher. She suggested entering the competition to him and said, "He's a bright student. He's very respectful. I think he has an innate love to work."
She spoke well of his whole class. "These kids really do want to help and I see this about Ricky. He's one of those kids who does want to help others."