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Pasco's Outstanding Senior has long resume, big heart

T.J. Pyche is on track to receive a diploma from Pasco High and an associate’s degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College.

MICHELE MILLER | Times

T.J. Pyche is on track to receive a diploma from Pasco High and an associate’s degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College.

He has 4.67 GPA. Earned an almost unheard-of 33 composite score on the ACT. Taken as rigorous a course of study as he can throughout his high school career, so much so that in May he'll get a diploma from Pasco High and an associate's degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College, thanks to dual enrollment classes. He's earned a fair share of awards, including the Ann Frank Humanitarian Award, and was also named a National Hispanic Scholar in 2012. Add to that the volunteer hours he's racked up at Pasco High, at two local elementary schools and in the Dade City community. And he's humble to boot.

Ask T.J. Pyche III what makes him so special and soon he's talking about what he can't do.

"I can't draw. I can't play sports. I can't play music, but I really admire people that can," he said.

And about that near perfect ACT score?

"Let's just say I'm a good test taker," said T.J., 17. "I know people who are really smart but they can't take a test. It doesn't mean I'm any smarter than them. I've worked hard but not really that hard. I'm smart, but not really that smart."

So if you're looking for him to tell you why he was selected as Pasco County Outstanding Senior of the Year, don't bother.

"There are numerous people that are deserving of this award," he said. "It means a lot that I won it, but there are a lot of people who could have won it."

Even so, there are others willing to weigh in.

"He's just a wonderful kid — my go-to person," said Mignon Edwards, the career specialist at Pasco High. "He's a good kid who's always worked hard. He's always there to lend a hand and always takes the initiative to help other people."

"He is amazing. Every time I go to a civic event, he's there helping out," said Pasco High math teacher Carol Stout. She got to know T.J. through his volunteer work at United Methodist Church in Dade City and as a student in her classroom, where he had a knack for figuring out a problem in his head before the other kids had a chance to enter the information into their calculators.

Then there's Rob Aguis, who serves as director of Pasco schools' Community, Career and Technical Education Department and heads the committee that selects the Outstanding Senior district winner out of entrants from 13 high schools.

"What a great kid," said Aguis who worked closely with T.J. in the 2011-12 Youth Leadership Pasco program. "Very humble, very down to earth, very smart and very energetic. When we were looking to organize class projects, T.J. always came through. He has just got a lot of charisma to him. He can light up a room."

T.J. is a driven kid, said his mom, Natalie Macey. "I never had to ask him about homework — he always just did it on his own. He's always had a part-time job ever since he was 15," she said. "He's a gem. I know he's never going to let me down — just keeps on moving like the little train that could, even when things have been difficult."

There has been some upheaval.

After 20 years of marriage, T.J.'s parents divorced and his mom and his younger brother moved to Richmond, Mo., where she could find work and eventually remarried. His dad, T.J. Pyche II, moved to Riverview and for a time, the younger T.J. commuted to Pasco High before moving in with his maternal grandparents, Faustino and Carmen Gonzalez. Last fall, T.J.'s grandfather passed away after a bout with pancreatic cancer.

"It was tough to have to go through that," Macey said. "But my dad always said it best: 'T.J.'s my little man.' "

"We moved him around a lot," said T.J.'s dad. "We gave him what he needed, but he kept his own way and did what he was supposed to do. I thank him all the time for making me look like a good parent. However, in reality, he has done all this on his own. I think his future will be as bright as he wants to be. I don't think he's a kid that has to make a million dollars. I think he'll be happy with just doing good things."

While his future is still unfolding, that's right along the lines of what the younger T.J. is thinking.

"In ninth grade, I wanted to be a doctor, but I can't even look at a bruise without it grossing me out," he said. "In 10th grade, I wanted to be an accountant. In 11th grade, a tax attorney. Now that it's the most important year of high school, I have no idea. I'd like to work for a nonprofit, I think — something like that.

"I like being able to share. I like to have a good relationship with God, in case all this goes away some day I'll have some place to go."

And he's appreciative of where he's already been.

"I'm happy to be graduating and moving on but I like the small-town feeling of this school," he said. "I like the community and being able to know everybody. You know the people you can count on, and the people you can't."

T.J. has already been accepted to a handful of schools, but he's holding out for the University of Florida.

"I've always wanted to be a Gator," he said, noting that he's counting the days, hours and minutes till the university sends its acceptance letters.

"I admit I sometimes get caught up in the race, but I'm not going to do that in college," he said. "There's always going to be someone in front of you. Even if you are the outstanding senior, there is always going to be someone in front of you."

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7307.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: T.J. Pyche was not a winner of the Dan Brown Memorial Scholarship. The original version of this article stated otherwise.

School winners of the Outstanding Senior Award

Jonathan Burke, Anclote High; Courtney Lyon; Fivay High; Christina Engler Gulf High; Tyler Wilton, Hudson High; Colin Defant, Land O'Lakes High; Manh Trac, Mitchell High; Shamina Stagler, Ridgewood High; Nicole Kuntz, River Ridge High; Rachel Floyd, Sunlake High; Ralph Herz, Wesley Chapel High; Nikita Shah, Wiregrass Ranch High; Joel Morrison, Zephyrhills High.

Pasco's Outstanding Senior has long resume, big heart 01/29/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 4:50pm]
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