Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Motivated toward success

Boca Ciega

High School


Liz Estefani Camperos, 18

GPa: 4.76

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Luis and Luz Camperos

Influence: My father has always influenced me in everything I do; he always motivates me to try my best and always expects the best from me. He is the one I look up to in my life because he knows that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, which drives me to reach my full potential.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to my Spanish teacher Mrs. Benton. She has been one of my teachers since my sophomore year and is the only teacher that really knows who I am. She has always been there for me and expects the best from me. Without her my high school years would not have been the same.

Looking back: My best high school memory was when I went to Epcot this year, I was able to be with all my friends and take a break from all my AP classes.

Made it Through: My toughest part of high school has been my senior year, being able to handle five AP classes and the stresses of being valedictorian with college applications and ACTs.

Advice: I would advise all underclassmen to take challenging AP classes and not to procrastinate. I would also advise them to take every year of their high school career seriously.

Whom would you Friend? Angelina Jolie.


Tess Huttenlocker, 17

GPA: 4.65

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Leslie Gray and Ralph Huttenlocker

Influence: My mother. She always encouraged me to pursue ALL my interests.

Shout-Out: I would like to thank Mrs. Nash, Mrs. Smith, Mr. Durspek and Mr. Lynch for being my most relatable and understanding teachers.

Looking back: Seeing my friends everyday and having, overall, a positive high school experience.

Made it Through: Every day, when I would have to push to start my homework.

Advice: Do not procrastinate. Everyone does it, but keeping up with your work will make high school much less stressful.

Whom would you Friend? Charles Darwin.

Clearwater High School


Michael J. Flowers, 18

GPa: 4.79

College: New College of Florida, Sarasota

Influence: One person who has influenced me is Mr. McGerald, my AP calculus teacher and academic team coach. He loves to learn things just to learn; for that he is my role model and superhero.

Shout-Out: Another teacher I would like to give a shout-out to is Miss Rod. She teaches me never to be ashamed of my own intellectualism as well as AP Spanish.

Looking back: My best high school memory is playing piano in chorus. Now if only I could sing.

Made it Through: My toughest high school moment was girl-related. I lost my best friend and a lot of sleep. I still miss her every day.

Advice: The best advice I could give the classmates I leave behind is to watch Harold and Maude (1971). Also, the only thing you have to be is whatever you want to be.

Whom would you Friend? Epsilon, the caterpillar from Alice and Wonderland.


Madeleine E. Turcotte, 18

GPa: 4.79

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Yvette Nowak and John Turcotte

Influence: My brother and sister because both of them have made me the person I am today. They taught me the value of humor, and their diligence and integrity inspires me to be the best I can be.

Shout-Out: To Mrs. Linda Smith: Thank you for keeping me sane these past four years and convincing me it was all worth it. You are the greatest teacher any student could hope for, and I can't thank you enough.

Looking back: There are a hundred little memories, from untimely fire drills to cracking open a pig's jaw to singing the Lion King song during tennis practice. Every day at Clearwater High is a great tornado day.

Made it through: I remember my brother leaving me at the door to my homeroom on the first day of school freshman year. Transferring from a private school, I could count the number of people I knew at Clearwater High on one hand, and I was terrified that I would never make any friends.

Advice: Be passionate about something. Apathy is the surest path to mediocrity.

Whom Would you Friend? Tina Fey.


Zane Rubaii, 18

GPA: 4.77

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Carol and Jody Rubaii

Shout-Out: Mr. McGerald. He solidified what I long suspected: science and math are far more awesome than the humanities.

Looking back: All of 11th and 12th grades.

Made it through: Getting to school on time. (Actually, that consisted of several moments.)

Advice: Do one of two things: take classes outside of your comfort zone or take classes according to the teacher of the class.



High School


Jordan St. John, 18

GPa: 4.79

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Lisa and Robert St. John

Influence: The person who has influenced me most in my life would be my father. He is not only my father; he is also my coach, my teacher and my mentor. He has taught me to be responsible, respectful and humble. I will carry the lessons he has taught me for the rest of my life.

Shout-Out: I would give a shout-out to Mr. Marn. While in his class I learned many life lessons and I became best friends with Jake Jarczynski, Sean Irwin and Andrew Richey, all of whom changed my life for the better.

Looking back: My greatest high school memory has to be playing varsity tennis.

Made it through: The toughest thing about high school for me was trying to balance sports, school, my job and my social life.

Advice: Listen to your teachers, do your best, and don't take no for an answer.

Whom Would you friend? Troy Polamalu.


Nicholas Tanner Kaufman, 18

GPA: 4.76

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Larry and Lori Kaufman

Influence: My parents have always been there to help me when I needed it and they have always been there to encourage me to reach my goals!

Shout-Out: I would have to give a shout-out to Mrs. Rose! She taught me for the first and second grades at McMullen Booth Elementary School and gave me a great foundation to build on.

Looking back: Simply spending time with my friends! They give me many great memories everyday!

Made it through: AP U.S. history. That is all I need to say.

Advice: Keep going strong! School isn't over yet. Have fun, these are the best years of our lives!

Whom Would you Friend? Derek Sanders, lead singer of Mayday Parade.

Dixie M. Hollins High School


Jessica J. Nham, 18

GPa: 4.56

College: University of South Florida, Tampa

Parents: Khai Nham and Sum Phung

Influence: One of the people who have influenced me the most, and still does, would be my best friend. I rely on my best friend the majority of the time, and due to that, she has taught me many things, both school-related and not, that I would have otherwise never have known.

Looking back: My best high school memory is meeting all of my friends, especially my best friend. Without her, I wouldn't have experienced being a normal teenager: going shopping, going out to eat, going to amusement parks, and just hanging out.

Made it through: My toughest high school moment was struggling to understand AP calculus BC.

Advice: The advice I would give to the underclassmen is to never give up in the middle of anything. Always try the best you can, no matter how much you WANT to give up.


Devina N. Chan, 18

GPA: 4.38

College: University of Central Florida, Orlando

Parents: Naim Chan and Rohinie Negron

Influence: One morning on my way to school, I crossed paths with a jogging woman who said to me, "Have a blessed day." For weeks after, I thought about how something as effortless and simple as such a statement, a stranger's words, could make me feel so warm, loved. I actually made a significant attempt to be more optimistic and nicer to others.

Shout-Out: I would give a shout-out to all my teachers if I could. But one teacher that has been incredibly supportive and helpful is my AP studio art teacher, Mrs. Koufas-Eisbacher. She is an intelligent and beautiful teacher who wants only the absolute best for her students and demands success.

Looking back: I think the best moment of my high school life was finding out I was salutatorian. I walked into the principal's office and started screaming when I saw our valedictorian standing there. I just knew, and I was overwhelmed; everything I had worked for was worth it in that single moment.

Made it through: We've all dealt with bullies at some point in our lives. The times when I had to handle being picked on or ridiculed would qualify as some of the worst memories I've had of my high school experience.

Advice: For the classmates I leave behind, I would advise them to find a balance in life. Be diligent, independent and laugh as much as you can.

Whom Would you Friend? Tyra Banks.

Dunedin High School


Ashley Jane Gilroy, 18

GPa: 4.8

College: University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Parents: Laura and William Gilroy

Influence: I have been influenced by my parents because they have taught me about perseverance and to set high goals and standards for myself.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to my sophomore chemistry teacher, Dr. Moore, who made me love chemistry, therefore influencing my major for college, biochemistry.

Looking back: I was lucky to have two great memories in high school, which were being crowned homecoming queen and being named valedictorian.

Made it through: I can't think of a tough moment during high school.

Advice: The best advice I could give the classmates I leave behind is to develop time management skills and high-quality work ethic.

Whom Would you Friend? Kristin Chenoweth.


Haley Marie London, 18

GPa: 4.8

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Marty and Melinda London

Influence: I was influenced by the character Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls. She was very studious and determined and had a good sense of humor and wit.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to Mr. Haynes. He toughened up all of his students and taught us to "adapt, modify, and overcome." I hope you're enjoying retirement!

Looking back: My best high school memory is playing piano with the marching band and jazz band, and attending the homecoming dance.

Made it through: My toughest moment in high school was when I took my first AP exam in human geography.

Advice: The best advice I can give my classmates is, when life closes a door, look for a window. Just because you didn't succeed in one of your goals, look for alternatives and keep trying.

Whom Would you Friend? Alexis Bledel.


Kayla Lock, 18

GPA: 4.69

College: University of South Florida, Tampa

Parents: Dean and Shelly DePaco

Influence: My mother, Shelly DePaco, has been a huge influence and has helped to guide me in my decisions, and continues to do so.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to Mrs. Schreiber! She is way too awesome for words, though I'm sure she could come up with some since she's the best English teacher around!

Looking back: My best memory is my Thespian induction. I love my thespian family.

Made it through: I haven't experienced it yet, but leaving all my high school friends and family after graduation.

Advice: All the drama is just not worth it.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Batman.

East Lake High School


Travis Altman, 17

GPa: 4.94

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Dawn and Scott Altman

Influence: My mom has influenced me because she instilled in me the importance of setting priorities and to always believe in myself.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to Sra. Elrom because she has taught me and my brothers for the past seven years and she is the reason why I enjoyed learning Spanish.

Looking back: My best high school memory was being named valedictorian.

Made it through: I haven't had any tough moments.

Advice: My advice to classmates I'm leaving behind would be to work hard, stay focused, and always look at the bigger picture.

Whom Would you Friend? LaDainian Tomlinson.


Erica Danielle Gerhard, 18

GPa: 4.94

College: University of Central Florida, Orlando

Parents: Glenn and Kathy Gerhard

Influence: The person who has influenced me the most is my mom. From a very early age she taught my brother and I how important education is. She stayed on top of all the stuff we were doing at school. My parents always encouraged me to do my best.

Shout-Out: There are three teachers whom I would like to thank: Mr. Rocktoff for inspiring my interest in psychology, Mrs. Cathey for her amazing enthusiasm, and Mr. O'Donnell for being the best teacher I will ever have.

Looking back: There are lots of them, but probably the most fun was when my friends plastic wrapped my car shut on my 17th birthday.

Made it through: My toughest high school moment was after my heart surgery. I was in a wheelchair and it was very difficult to get around school. It gave me a greater appreciation for what disabled people go through.

Advice: The best advice for the classmates I leave behind is to work hard for what you want. Most good things don't come without effort, but if you want something, work hard and you can achieve it.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Maya Angelou.


Monica Beth Freifeld, 17

GPA: 4.89

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Helen and Michael Freifeld

Influence: My parents have influenced me the most because they have such a strong relationship and they are so supportive. They always want the best for me, and through love they have contributed the most to the person I am today.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to Mrs. Elrom; I have had the pleasure of being her student for three years straight. She is a great teacher and an even better person; she is always making the class laugh.

Looking back: My best high school memory is when I got to receive the Spirit Award during homecoming week as senior class president. I was very proud of the senior class for working so hard on all of the events.

Made it through: My toughest high school moment was AP exam week junior year. I was studying constantly, but it all paid off and this years AP exams have been much easier to handle.

Advice: I would tell them that hard work pays off in the end and you always have to consider the long-term. When faced with a choice, just think about if and how it will impact you in the future. You should always have your future in your best interest.

WHOM WOULD Friend? Oprah Winfrey.

East Lake High School's Engineering Academy


Ranjit Vadlamannati, 18

GPa: 4.93

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Ranjana and Sharma Vadlamannati

Influence: One person who has influenced me would be one of my close friends, Aditya Shah. He was always the one to push me that extra mile, make me compete, and just bring out the best. Never did he let me take the easy way out.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to my two favorite English teachers, Mrs. Mobley and Mrs. Barbieri. They have changed my perspective on language and literature. I appreciate how they are true to their work and go out of the way to help a student succeed.

Looking back: My best high school memory would have to be when I was cheered on loudly by all of my friends, which was led by last year's valedictorians Brandon Moores and Sam Shaffer at an award ceremony. It made me feel great to have that support.

Made it through: My toughest moment in high school would have to be walking in the first day of freshman year and having to sit next to upperclassmen.

Advice: I would tell my classmates to value time because once time is lost you can never recover it again.

Whom Would you Friend? Lionel Messi, my favorite soccer player.


Rachel Shaddock, 18

GPA: 4.92

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Kelley and Sandra Shaddock

Influence: My parents have had a huge influence on me as they always supported me and pushed me to reach my potential. Making them proud is the best feeling in the world.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to Mrs. Cathey for introducing me to a truly challenging course as well as Davy Crockett.

Looking back: My best high school memory was getting to dress up for '80s day during homecoming week. Running around to '80s music in neon colored leggings and teased hair was a blast.

Made it through: The toughest part of high school is waking up before the sun is up. Waking up at five in the morning is something I won't miss next year.

Advice: The best advice I can give to classmates I am leaving behind is to study hard, but don't forget to have fun!

WHom Would you Friend? Kate Middleton.

Gibbs High School


Chloe Kessock, 18

GPa: 4.65

College: Florida State University, Tallahassee

Parents: Sylvia Raymond and Charles Kessock

Influence: Dr. Cody Clark, the PCCA (Pinellas County Center for the Arts ) guidance counselor at Gibbs High. He was one of the only people who never stopped believing in me for a second, even when I didn't.

Shout-Out: Mr. Zuercher, my AP American history teacher. I never learned more from anyone else, and I can still name all 50 presidents (just kidding)!

Looking back: I have never had prouder moments than our moments of triumph as the Gibbs High Academic Team. We showed that as a school primarily known for our arts, we could battle intellectual prowess with the best of them.

Made it through: We as a school have had to battle more red tape and bureaucratic confusion than any other school in the state. And I'm proud to say we handled it with grace.

Advice: No matter how bad a situation might seem, there is always a way to remedy it, if one is determined, innovative and motivated to try.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Sir Ian McKellen.


Kelsie Conley, 17

GPA: 4.62

College: Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

Parents: Andrea and Randall Conley

Influence: The biggest influence on my life so far has been my Perkins Elementary School art teacher Michelle Crosby. Her style of teaching was so energetic and encouraging that I could not help but become interested in visual arts. One of the first assignments she gave us was to make a self-portrait, which still hangs on my wall to this day.

Shout-Out: I would like to thank Alan Johnson and Lauren Blackburn, my studio and printmaking teachers, for their instruction and all the time they dedicate not only to me but all of the visual arts majors at PCCA.

Looking back: My best high school memory was my solo art show "Folktales" at [email protected] in April. Over 100 people attended the opening and it was a great experience to be able to have a show in the St. Pete community.

Made it through: A tough moment in high school for me was the month when I went to St. Petersburg High School. It did not feel like the place for me and it was a hard decision between choosing the IB program, or the art program at PCCA. Ultimately I made the right decision.

Advice: The best advice I would leave is to try to be productive and do what you love all the time. Learn something new, make a zine, write letters, make friends, go on adventures.


High School


Oceana Zanker, 18

GPa: 4.48

College: Eckerd College, St. Petersburg

Parents: Ken and Nicole Zanker

Influence: Elie Wiesel because he overcame injustice, and used his experience to advocate human rights and world peace. He is a great inspiration.

Shout-Out: All the teachers that I have ever had! Because they all have taught me something.

Looking back: Basically all of sophomore year, and tidbits of junior and senior year, just hanging out with cool people.

Made it through: Finishing work on time.

Advice: To do your work and keep an open mind.

Whom would you friend? James Franco or Leonardo DiCaprio.


Michael B. Singleton Jr., 18

GPA: 4.39

College: University of South Florida, Tampa

Parents: Felicia and Michael B. Singleton Sr.

Influence: My parents because they drilled success in my head even as a child, while at the same time giving me the freedom to experience life.

Shout-Out: Coach Anthony, my business and technology teacher because she has been a mentor throughout my entire high school journey. She always guided me with whatever I needed help in, whether it was personal or school-related.

Looking back: October 2007 I met my best friend Janeke McCullough, who has been a supporter of me since day one.

Made it through: Having to deal with the aftermath of a loss against Bogie when I missed free throws to win the game. It was hard because I was always clutch at the free throw line and I let the Spartans down.

Advice: The best advice I can give to anyone is to just be yourself, and don't let anyone get in the way of what you want to accomplish because through Christ anything is possible if you have faith and work harder than the next person.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Derrick Rose.

Lakewood High School — Center for Advanced Technologies


Austin Fraley Bruch

GPa: 4.85

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Brian and Tracey Bruch

Influence: One person who has influenced me is Tony Dungy, mainly due to his consistent strength throughout all of his struggles in his life. He has truly inspired me to always stay positive and keep trying my best.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to my Spanish teacher Ms. Darlene Lebo for being a great teacher and mentor throughout both my high school career and life in general.

Looking back: My best high school memory has been hanging out with my friends in the school parking lot, listening to music in our cars.

Made it through: My toughest high school moment was trying to assimilate into a brand-new community and school where I did not know anyone, coming from a different middle school than everyone else.

Advice: My best advice to the underclassmen would be to keep your goals in mind and to just be yourself.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Mark Zuckerberg.


Sean Michael Bittner, 18

GPA: 4.82

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Kerry and Lynn Bittner

Influence: Collectively my parents, because they were the first people to challenge me to challenge myself.

Shout-Out: Dr. George Garbutt and Ms. Darlene Lebo, CAT AP chemistry and Lakewood AP Spanish teachers, respectively. In addition to their assistance in my success as a student, they have also had some of the largest contributions in my choice of a major, chemical engineering, and minor, Spanish.

Looking back: It's a tie between the 2010-2011 Varsity Swimming and Diving District Competition and winning second place at the Florida State Spanish Conference, because both were the result of my classmates and I coming together as a team, putting in countless hours of hard work and dedication.

Made it through: Learning that I have multi-directional instability in my shoulders, because it prevents me from swimming competitively in the future, which was both recreational and therapeutic for my chronic low back injury.

Advice: I would tell them to develop strong relationships with a variety of people early on, because you never know when you'll need someone's help or when they'll need yours.

Whom Would Friend? Vin Diesel or Shia Labeouf.

Largo High School


Nathan Mowatt, 18

GPa: 4.59

College: University of South Florida, Tampa

Parents: Bret and Evelyn Mowatt

Influence: My mom has been my influence. This is because she always had encouraged and challenged me to be successful in school.

Shout-Out: My shout-out is to my math teacher Mr. Pease. He's been willing to help me with classes such as calculus even though he doesn't teach it.

Looking back: My best high school memories are hanging out with all my friends and playing high school hockey.

Made it through: My toughest moment of high school was taking four AP classes in one year.

Advice: The advice I would give to my classmates is to keep up the hard work and don't slack off.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Steven Stamkos.



Wildhack, 17

GPA: 4.55

College: Vanderbilt University, Nashville

Parents: Holly and William Wildhack III

Influence: My mentor and vice principal, Mrs. Vigue, who showed me over and over again where my priorities needed to be, and kept my goals high.

Shout-Out: I would give a shout-out to my calculus teacher, Mrs. Sirjani, who reminded me that knowledge is a gift, and should be valued as such.

Looking back: There was one day, just one, where all of my friends, with all their differences and disagreements, came together and we took a "family" picture. We spent an afternoon having fun, making jokes and laughing. It never happened again, but I treasure that calm before the storm.

Made it through: The moment I realized I couldn't be every where at once.

Advice: The best advice I can give is to challenge yourself, but don't take on more than you can handle. Keep your priorities straight, but always make sure your friends are high up on that list, because when it comes down to it, you're going to need them.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Jane Austen.

NorthEast High School


Tuba Sahiti, 18

GPa: 4.75

College: Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Parents: Kadrije and Turhan Sahiti

Influence: My brother, Berat, has influenced me and is always there for me.

Shout-Out: I would like to thank Mrs. Dudley for her support and all that she has taught me over these four years, from Student Government to American government, and everything in between. She certainly knows how to brighten a day.

Looking back: All the laughs and smiles.

Made it through: The AP calculus test my junior year.

Advice: Don't do drugs, and stay in school.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Katt Williams.



Reinhart, 17

GPA: 4.62

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Cathy and Dr. Ken Reinhart

Influence: My mom has been such a huge supporter of my academics from the very beginning. She knew I was capable of a lot and always pushed me to do my best, and I owe a lot of what I have accomplished to her guidance.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to Mr. Burness, my AP U.S. history teacher. His seriousness, challenging class, and vast knowledge of his subject caused him to earn the respect of not only me, but all of his students.

Looking back: I loved being on the swim team and participating in the Total Team Wares meet. I'll never forget doing the chicken dance in North Shore Pool along with the 800 other swimmers who were there. I also loved going to Friday night baseball games with my best friends.

Made it through: My toughest high school moment involved giving a 10 minute presentation about cancer while in the Todd Center program. I dislike talking in front of people, so this was a challenge.

Advice: Don't be lazy; do your work and study. Even though you might not want to now, your hard work will pay off in the end. Also, become involved and have fun. You only have one high school experience.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Taylor Swift.

Osceola High School


Hannah Demarest, 18

GPa: 4.77

College: Southeastern University, Lakeland

Parents: Laura and Robert Demarest

Influence: My little sister, Lina, because she taught me to have a positive attitude no matter what you have to deal with.

Shout-Out: There are four teachers: Tracy Colton, Betty Herzhauser, Geoffrey Robinson and Barbara Ferguson because they have a passion for their jobs, which made me want to learn.

Looking back: Spending time with my friends and getting to know lots of different people.

Made it through: I have been blessed not to have had any really tough moments.

Advice: Find a good balance between class work and fun so that you can feel accomplished in the end.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Pistol Pete Maravich.


Abigail Kaufman, 18

GPA: 4.75

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Eleazar Kaufman and Melinda Greene

Influence: Author Tony Buzan. His mind-mapping technique sparked my interest in experimenting with more techniques to improve the memory and the learning process.

Shout-Out: My calculus teacher, Mr. Robinson. His ability to teach from calculus' most basic principles has deepened both my understanding and fascination with mathematics.

Looking back: When I spent an entire day at Busch Gardens on a physics field trip.

Made it through: It was in sophomore year, when I had to take my first and second period exams while suffering from a bad stomach virus.

Advice: My best advice to students is to always be aware of what motivates them to succeed. Make it your center in those hard times when you need that extra push most.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Tim Berners-Lee.

Palm Harbor University HIgh School


Tyler Craig, 18

GPa: 4.88

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Steve and Tina Craig

Influence: My grandfather, Louis Mueller, for showing me how to get more for less.

Shout-Out: I couldn't possibly pick just one, each and every one of my teachers has influenced me in numerous ways. I can't thank them enough for everything that they did for me.

Looking back: Going on clinical rotations with my fellow medical students and having hands-on experience with patients.

Advice: Amongst all of the things that will fill your life for the remainder of your high school career remember to enjoy the time you have and don't focus too much on what's ahead. If you work hard and have fun at the same time, things will go the way you want them to.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Bono.


Matt Dorian, 18

GPA: 4.83

College: Oxford College of Emory University, Atlanta

Parents: Lori and Robert Dorian

Influence: My Grandfather Niles has motivated me, continues to push me, and will always be one of my closest role models.

Shout-Out: I would NEVER have made it through senior year without one of the most supportive teachers that I could ask for — Dr. Applebaum. More than a teacher, I consider him my friend.

Looking back: One of the best memories from high school was watching the Rays beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALCS.

Made it through: The hardest part of high school was the simple realization that I'm headed off to college.

Advice: Dream big.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Andi Vranica.

Palm Harbor University High School

International Baccalaureate Program


Ambika Anand, 17

GPa: 4.9

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Ananda and Indira Ramaiah

Influence: I'd probably say that my mother has really influenced me because she's the one who's always pushing me to do better, not accepting anything less than the best. Without her, I wouldn't have done nearly as well as I have.

Shouthout-Out: I'd like to give a shout-out to all my IB teachers. They really do put in so much effort to make sure their students learn and do their best. They don't just teach because it's their job. They teach because they genuinely want to aid others in learning.

Looking back: A part of high school that I really enjoyed was being in Palm Harbor's Mu Alpha Theta chapter. Going to those math competitions and competing unfortunately early in the morning had their charm.

Made it through: The toughest moments were just getting the major papers finished for IB.

Advice: Take advantage of the education you can receive. But don't forget to still enjoy your high school life.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Eric Whitacre.


James Tian, 17

GPa: 4.9

College: Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Parents: Haihe Tian and Qing Li

Influence: Karan Sagar, from freshman year, taught me and inspired me to pursue my interests.

Shout-Out: Mr. Macfarlane for being a role model in personal character, mathematical curiosity, and genuine concern for others.

Looking back: Running and participating in Mu Alpha Theta events!

Made it through: Junior year AP week.

Advice: Work hard, but don't work too hard.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Abraham Lincoln.


Christian Carvajal, 18

GPA: 4.88

College: Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Parents: Juan and Sonia Carvajal

Influence: John Carvajal, my older brother. His attitude towards life and simply doing what he loves, rather than conforming, is inspiring.

Shout-Out: Hello Mrs. Gleason! There is no doubt that (during) the last three years in PHU you always pushed me to not settle for mediocre work.

Looking back: The Young Scholars Program at Florida State University during the summer after junior year. I made some great friends from high schools spread across Florida.

Made it through: Not really related to school or activities, it was a family problem that arose. It got resolved, but the unnecessary stress got to be too much at times.

Advice: Do what you like. I always tell those exact same words to anyone who asks me what clubs they should join, what classes to take, etc.

WHO WOULD YOU Friend? Victor Kim.

Pinellas Park High School


Chan Naing, 18

GPa: 4.76

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Maung and Nyo Naing

Influence: My sister, who, ever since she could talk, had been my geek buddy and academic rival. She constantly impresses me with her musical abilities and knowledge on the most obscure topics.

Shout-Out: Ms. LS (Lydia Blatter), my 11th grade AP English teacher along with Mr. Graham, my 10th grade English teacher, worked hand in hand to make sure I went "against the grain" and became something more than just a cog in the machine. They helped me affect change on a systemic level (as well as piquing my interest in curly mustaches).

Looking back: I enjoyed my senior homecoming, which was my first high school dance. Although I was reluctant and forced to go, I'm glad I had the chance to fancy myself up and dance like an idiot for one night.

Made it through: During the 11th grade, I had an existential breakdown in which I tried to reason with myself the motives behind my parents immigrating to America; partly because my grandfather died without any of his children by his side and partly because it seemed like my parents were not as supportive towards my studies as they had been in the past. I was scared that we would have to move back to Burma and give up all that we've worked for while we were here.

Advice: Never underestimate yourself or others; you'll be surprised at what a driven person can accomplish. And be sure to leave an impact wherever you go because legacies last longer than the physical person.

Whom would you Friend? Ash Ketchum from the Anime series, Pokemon.


Hanh Van Tran, 18

GPA: 4.75

College: University of South Florida, Tampa

Parents: Chau Nguyen and Xuan Tran

Influence: My sister, who is one of the strongest and most caring people I know. She has always supported me and pushed me to do my best.

Shout-Out: My AP English teacher, LS. Not only is she a competent teacher, but she is also someone her students can be open with.

Looking back: I greatly enjoyed my senior prom.

Made it through: Junior year my close friend and my sister moved away and AP classes were becoming excruciatingly stressful.

Advice: Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Seminole High School


Carrie Hoffman, 18

GPa: 4.78

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Dennis and Sarah Hoffman

Influence: My mom; everyone says I am exactly like her, personality-wise, so obviously she has influenced me.

Shout-Out: Several. Mrs. James, Ms. Kiefer, Mrs. Nagel (elementary), Mrs. Whidden (middle), Mrs. Ladd and Mr./Coach Haight (high school) have all individually influenced me to strive to be my best and achieve beyond normal standards.

Looking back: Swim Team Senior Kidnapping my freshman year.

Made it through: Taking AP exams, all 10 of them.

Advice: The only thing you can control are your choices; they define who you are.

Whom would you Friend? Ian Somerhalder.


Michael J. Paonessa, 18

GPA: 4.77

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Cynthia and Ralph Paonessa

Influence: Growing up, my family influenced me a great deal. Through my high school years, my oldest brother Joey has served as a mentor as he is in his fourth year of medical school, which is the same path I intend to take.

Shout-Out: I'd like to give a shout-out to my favorite teacher Mrs. Eunson for sponsoring our academic team and teaching me everything I know about math.

Looking back: My best memories in high school are participating in clubs, especially academic team matches, and training for triathlon.

Made it through: There were not any tough moments to speak of, thankfully.

Advice: Success requires discipline and hard work. Challenge yourself with hard classes, but bring balance to your life with physical fitness and friends.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Gucci Mane La Flare.

St. Petersburg Collegiate High School


Nhi M. Do, 17

GPa: 4.85

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Long T. Do and Trang Ma

Influence: My mom has influenced me above and beyond with her wisdoms, love and support. From her, I have learned to be a caring and considerate person who always has kind words for others, brings smiles to their faces, and is ready to help wherever possible.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to ALL my professors at St. Petersburg College, St. Petersburg Collegiate High, and Pinellas Park High for their dedication and motivation while caring and teaching me and other students with all their passion. I am proud and honored to have them in my life.

Looking back: It is impossible to choose the best high school memory knowing that all the fond memories I recall are moments I share with my classmates, faculty and staff, who became more than just classmates and mentors — they are also my family.

Made it through: The time of my college graduation with SPC students and my classmates was the toughest high school moment. I had no expectation and was unprepared to win the Apollo Award, representing the SP/Gibbs campus and my high school; I was humble and ecstatic at the same time during my speech to my massive audience.

Advice: My best advice to my classmates: continue pursuing your passion while doing your very best in everything that you do and keep pressing on, Class of 2011! Also, when you make a mistake, don't back down and give up, but fix it and remember it for next time; mistakes happen so that we can learn from them.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? David Archuleta.


Todd Kozlowski, 18

GPA: 4.79

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Andrea and Stan Kozlowski

Influence: Both my parents have had a profound influence on my perception of the world, how I interact with people and especially emphasis on learning and doing my absolute best.

Shout-Out: Ms. Boyle and Ms. Metz, my guidance counselor and principal, have provided me with so many opportunities and used so much of their valuable time to make sure I succeeded. I couldn't thank them enough.

Looking back: My senior prom — being voted prom king and being able to spend it with all of my friends.

Made it through: Trying to balance two advanced math and two physical science college-level classes at the same time; especially during exams week.

Advice: I would advise that, if you do so choose to put off all your assignments until the last minute, realize that you have to be capable of actually doing them. Procrastination only works for the chosen few.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Carl Sagan.

St. Petersburg High School


Abigail Nickens, 17

GPa: 4.79

College: Boston University, Boston

Parents: Bridget and Tim Nickens

Influence: My parents have influenced me most because they never for one moment stopped encouraging me. Without them I wouldn't have the same determination.

Shout-Out: I would like to thank my freshman year English teacher, Mr. Benton, because he made me really love English and helped me become a much better writer and feel confident about my writing.

Looking back: My first day of freshman year. I have never been so excited and nervous at the same time, and that was the day I met the people who would be my best friends throughout high school.

Made it through: When I had to swim the 500 meter race (somehow I made it … even though I was dead last).

Advice: Whenever you feel like giving up, just remember that things will get easier and all your hard work will pay off in the end. Also, even though I forget to follow this, don't procrastinate.

WHOM WOULD YOU friend? Taylor Swift.


Jeremy Steiner, 18

GPA: 4.78

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Clarice and Steve Steiner

Influence: Mr. Tarrou, my trigonometry teacher, and Mrs. Ladd, my AP calculus teacher, influenced my path toward civil engineering because they made math enjoyable and were always available to help me.

Looking back: All the time I spent with friends in marching band.

Made it through: The graduation speech that I am going to give.

Advice: Don't slack off!

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Matt Greiner, the drummer for August Burns Red.

St. Petersburg High School International Baccalaureate Program


Preet Patel, 17

GPa: 4.92

College: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Parents: Drs. Girish Patel and Kirti Bhargava-Patel

Influence: My elder brother Luv has always been my role model.

Shout-Out: Mrs. Vanduyne, Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Marshman, Mrs. Torres and Dr. Adkins for making school memorable.

Looking back: Grad Night was fun.

Made it through: Watching the Rays lose the World Series in '08.

Advice: Stay calm and enjoy life.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Didier Drogba.


Amy Elizabeth Smith, 18

GPA: 4.91

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Kyle and Linda Smith

Influence: My amazing boyfriend, Will Keyes, is pretty much the best person I've ever met. Someday I hope I'm as smart as him.

Shout-Out: I'd like to give a shout-out to Mr. Townsend, my awesome academic coach and math teacher! I never would've learned calculus without your horsey word problems! You're the best!!

Looking back: During my sophomore year, my best friends and I created a Relay For Life team and had an incredible time raising money and playing games at the event.

Made it through: IB exams.

Advice: Have a distraction. Don't make your entire life about school — have some fun!

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Tim Tebow.

Tarpon Springs

High School


Leah Miller, 18

GPa: 4.89

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Angela and Randy Miller

Influence: My mom has really influenced me. She has worked hard to make sure I have the best opportunities for my success.

Shout-Out: I would like to give a shout-out to the whole 25 building, Mr. Priddy, Mrs. Deal, and of course Ms. Tsongranis. There's too long of a list to name all the teachers I'd like to give a shout-out to.

Looking back: My best high school memory would be winning homecoming queen. It was such an honor to win based on the votes of my peers.

Made it through: My toughest high school moment was the beginning of junior year. I took on more AP classes, and trying to find a balance between those and my extracurricular activities was a challenge.

Advice: If success came easily, then everyone would be successful. It takes all you've got and more.

WHOM WOULD YOU friend? Zach Galifianakis.


Nomiki Zervos, 18

GPA: 4.71

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Parents: Angela and Basil Zervos

Influence: I cannot choose one. Both of my parents have been the most influential people in my life because they are both brilliant, wise, passionate and supportive. They are my best friends and perfect examples of the kind of person I want to become.

Shout-Out: I would give a shout-out to Ms. Maria Tsongranis. She has not only been a great teacher but a great friend. She has always treated me as an adult, helped me in more ways than one, and has acted like the big sister I never had.

Looking back: Winning homecoming queen.

Made it through: Probably taking the long and tedious AP exams at the end of the year. They were never-ending and certainly nothing to look forward to preparing for.

Advice: Know yourself.

WHOM WOULD YOU Friend? Princess Kate Middleton!

Motivated toward success 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 1:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Long day of diplomacy: Tillerson visits Afghanistan, Iraq


    BAGHDAD — Far from the Washington murmurs about his future, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to two of America's enduring war zones Monday, prodding leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq to reach out to longtime rivals.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, center, speaks Monday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, accompanied by Gen. John Nicholson, left, and Special Charge d’Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens.
  2. Head-on crash kills Wesley Chapel teacher and Zephyrhills man


    TAMPA — Two men, including a high school math teacher, were killed Monday in a head-on crash on Morris Bridge Road, deputies said.

  3. Pinellas sees slight increase in black and first-year teachers


    A year after the Pinellas County school district was chastised in a state report for clustering inexperienced teachers in the state's most struggling schools, the district has reported a first look at its teacher corps.

    The Pinellas County school district has taken a first look at first-year teachers in struggling schools and minority hiring, both of which ticked slightly upward.
  4. Editorial: Trump owes apology to fallen soldier's Miami family


    There is no more sacred, solemn role for a president than to comfort grieving family members of soldiers who have given their lives in service of their country. Those calls cannot be easy, and some presidents are better at it than others. Yet President Donald Trump and his administration continue to engage in a …

  5. Lightning: Jon Cooper takes unusual tact to create mismatches

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Tyler Johnson is about to swing his left leg over the boards for his next shift alongside linemate Alex Killorn and ... whom else?

    Stamkos? Kucherov? Point?

    Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper argues the called as his team gets a faceoff violation, leading to penalty and #Caps PP goal, during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (10/09/17).DIRK SHADD   |   Times