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South Pinellas County valedictorians and salutatorians for 2009

Rodolfo Estrada, 17

Boca Ciega High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? The economy's dire needs for reconstruction.

What's the secret to your success? Persistence to reach the ultimate goal of a bright career in the medical field.

Name one person who has influenced your life. No one person directly affects me; I self-motivate myself from the actions of many.

What is your best high school memory? My senior year has unveiled a small portion of who I am as a person.

List your top senior volunteer work/community projects/jobs. Volunteering at St. Anthony's Hospital as well as conducting research in Palms of Pasadena.

Marcus Altman17

East Lake High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would do more to uphold and protect the rights of all animals. I would strive to preserve their habitats as opposed to allowing them to be destroyed for economic gains.

What is the secret to your success? My keys to success are hard work, dedication and focus.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My mom has been influential because she has taught me that with passion and commitment, I am capable of achieving anything that I set my mind to in life. Her belief in me never wavers.

What is your best high school memory? My best high school memories have occurred during third-period break with my friends. Those have been some of the funniest moments of my life.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: My top senior volunteer work has been tutoring in various academic subjects at the East Lake Library.

Alyse Marie Scurlock, 17

Gibbs High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? The one thing I would change would be funding for primary and secondary education. I would attempt to raise teachers' wages because they are the people that educate the future leaders of America.

What is the secret to your success? Having good time-management skills. Being able to balance a busy schedule enables me to stay determined and study harder.

Name one person who has influenced your life: One person who has influenced my life is my mother, Joyce O'Neill. She has always encouraged me to keep up the hard work, and she has helped me with any obstacle that has been in my way.

What is your best high school memory? My senior prom. It was an enchanting evening.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Being a Hospice Teen Volunteer. I volunteered at the St. Petersburg Hospice Thrift Shop.

Chelsea Renae Creaturo, 17

Lakewood High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would promote more travel and cultural awareness … so we can more fully understand not only what makes us all different, but also what ties us together.

What is the secret to your success? Treating school like a day job. It's something I have to do during the day, but it doesn't define who I am.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My small group leader, Lani Ellis. She has encouraged me to discover my passions and simply run with them.

What is your best high school memory? When I was in the cast of the Drama Club productions. I was in The Miss Firecracker Contest this year and Our Town last year.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: My involvement in the Pinellas Community Church youth programs. I am a speaker in their middle school program on Sundays.

Niraj N. Singh, 18

Lakewood Center for Advanced Technologies

If you were president, what one thing would you change? Reform health care … to reduce costs, increase access and decrease inefficiency.

What's the secret to your success? My parent and grandparents … have instilled within me a strong sense of diligence, a motivation to be the best I can be.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My grandfather has been a major guiding force. Coming from a humble beginning in a village in India, he immigrated to the U.S. alone with a few clothes and $500, working from scratch to become a successful civil engineer. He has given me a strong sense of compassion and humility.

What is your best high school memory? Prom, where I was announced prom king.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: National Honor Society. I helped coordinate charitable activities.

Meagan Paylor, 18

Northeast High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would make going to college an option for every deserving student, regardless of their financial situation. Motivated students should not miss out on this important opportunity.

What's the secret to your success? From an early age, I've made academics a priority. I've also taken challenging courses and developed good study habits.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My parents have influenced my life with their continuous support and encouragement. They've instilled in me a strong work ethic.

What is your best high school memory? Times spent with friends and homecoming activities, especially Valhalla.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Toys for Tots and Habitat for Humanity.

Audra Locicero, 18

Osceola High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would get our nation out of our war with the Middle East because we can no longer afford to turn the other cheek to unjust killing for profit.

What is the secret to your success? Being as relaxed about school as possible, and not letting the idea of becoming valedictorian get in the way of my creativity, or be my sole purpose.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My family. They have been my rock since day one.

What is your best high school memory? Beating our rival Seminole in the district finals for soccer this year. We played them over a dozen times and never once beat them until that day.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Volunteering at the SPCA Tampa Bay; feeding the homeless; setting up a Really Really Free Market, where the community traded and gave away items.

Mark Alan Hutchinson, 17

Pinellas Park High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? The health care system because there are far too many people who are going without it. Universal health care or other reforms would improve the quality of life for most Americans.

What's the secret to your success? I always follow responsible decisions, and I keep my promises. I try to never … refuse others when they need help.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My teacher, Mr. Percifield. … Any time I needed advice or help, he was … glad to do whatever he could.

What is your best high school memory? The Criminal Justice Academy invited senior members on a ski trip … I was able to see snow for the first time!

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Through the Florida Public Service Association, I and others raised money for the bicycle unit of the Pinellas Park Police Department.

Sarah Johnston, 18

Seminole High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? If I were president, I would work to provide more funding for public schooling.

What's the secret to your success? I can always look to God for strength during any difficult challenge. He gives me a purpose to live for and to use the gifts He has given me to the fullest extent.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My sister Jennifer has influenced my life by reminding me that any goal is worth striving for. Our goals in life are very different from one another, but I see the passion that she has toward her goals and it inspires me.

List your top volunteer work/community projects/job: My top senior volunteer work was tutoring students in math at Osceola Middle School. I enjoy being able to explain concepts in a way that the students can finally understand them and feel accomplished.

Abdiel Gonzalez, 18

St. Petersburg High School

What's the secret to your success? Hard work, focus, and support from friends and family.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My dad; he has always been there for me to give me advice and support, always being very understanding.

What is your best high school memory? Homecoming week.

List your top volunteer work/community project/jobs: Helping as a VITA Tax Preparer for low-income families.

Komal Kirti Patel, 18

St. Petersburg High School International Baccalaureate program

Name one person who has influenced your life: Unique does not begin to describe my mother, Mrs. Indira K. Patel. My mom has always encouraged me not to fear life's obstacles and to live up to my potential. Her strong-willed and goal-oriented personality has developed within me a need to follow my passion and to pursue my dreams. Her greatest gift to me, however, is her quiet patience. Although a busy mother of four children, she has never neglected my individual needs and desires. She personifies unconditional love, sacrifice and modesty. She is one of a kind.

What is your best high school memory? My freshman year homecoming game. Although we lost, I learned that the outcome is not as important as the fight.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Volunteered at Largo Medical Hospital.

Dylan Sprague, 17

St. Pete Collegiate High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would lobby for a national program of high-caliber residential high schools.

What is the secret to your success? I attribute my success to being a very curious person, having a strong work ethic … and a large degree of natural analytic intelligence.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My father, who helped imbue me with my enthusiastic attitude toward learning, as well as pushing me to succeed in school from early on. My mother has also influenced me, teaching me to read early on in life and providing emotional support.

What is your best high school memory? The summers I spent at Duke University through the Talent Identification Program.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: I volunteered at the American Heart Association.

Kristen A. Eberts, 17

Largo High School

Name one person who has been a role model or hero in your life: Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader. She's been under house arrest for over 13 years but has still managed to inspire people to nonviolent resistance against the reigning junta. I can only hope to have that kind of political courage and strength.

What would you like to accomplish by the time you turn 30? Do well in college, study abroad, go to law school, teach and/or practice law in Florida, run for office and win. Make the world a little bit better.

Who should the next U.S. president be? Someone who is open-minded, thoughtful, charismatic, well-educated, experienced, pragmatic and progressive, but without a huge ego.

List your top volunteer work/community project/jobs. National Merit Scholar, Youth In Government, Model United Nations.

Alexander Jing Suerte, 18

Boca Ciega High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would do more to help the impoverished in our country. A lot of times we look at other countries and sympathize for those less fortunate there, but … there are people on our own soil suffering in the same ways.

What's the secret to your success? To remain humble, yet confident in my abilities and push myself to obtain the goals I set.

Name one person who has influenced your life? I've been heavily influenced by my mother, Ella Rivera, who has always remained selfless in everything she does and has worked hard for me to be able to have the opportunities to succeed in life.

What is your best high school memory? Every soccer season. Even though we weren't the greatest team, we always had fun.

List your top volunteer work/community projects/job: Helping out in the 2008 AIDS Walk.

Chelsea Bonnain, 18

Dixie Hollins High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would ultimately strive for peaceful relations overseas.

What is the secret to your success? Hard work is at the root of all success. I am very grateful to have had the support of those around me and owe much of what I've become to their love.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My brother Josh Bonnain. He was valedictorian of his class three years ago, so I've followed in his footsteps but pushed all the more harder to make them my own.

What is your best high school memory? My theater experiences. With every show I could step into someone else's shoes for a while, and through such acting I've better defined myself.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Volunteering at Pinellas Association for Retarded Children's Art Studio. The therapy involved in art is amazing.

Amanda Aufiero, 17

East Lake High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would change salaries. For the amount of work teachers put in, I think it's unfair the payroll that they receive.

What is the secret to your success? Remaining focused. I've always had a goal set in my mind and was determined to do what it takes to get there.

Name one person who has influenced your life: Both my parents have greatly influenced my life. They've always had faith in me and encouraged me to try my best.

What is your best high school memory? The study sessions we had before exams. We'd study for hours but made each other laugh the entire time.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: This year I spent 75 hours volunteering at Cypress Woods Elementary. I tutored students in a first-grade class and really learned a lot from it.

Molly Kathryn McCormick, 18

Gibbs High School

If you were president, what is one thing you would change? I would change our educational standards. Rather than lowering the passing grade each year, I would want to equip our schools with better supplies and faculty.

What's the secret to your success so far? I keep track of my priorities and am able to motivate myself to complete what I need to complete.

Name one person who has influenced your life: Through example, my mom has taught me to be a strong, independent person.

What is your best high school memory? Some of my favorites were spending time with my friends in class, joking about the curriculum and the school.

List your top volunteer work/community projects/job: Working at Haslam's Book Store.

Taylor Whaley, 17

Lakewood High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? Work on making the world a [better] place for our future generations.

What is the secret to your success? The secret to my success is dedication, hard work and focus.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My mother has influenced my life the most. She always believed in me and knew that I would try to do my best.

What is your best high school memory? Making lifelong friendships with my classmates.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Volunteering at Bay Point Middle and the tutoring that I did at my school.

Erica Leah Von Stein, 17

Lakewood Center for Advanced Technology

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would increase funding, as well as support, for research and implementation of alternative fuels.

What's the secret to your success so far? I enjoy being productive and am truly proud of work well done.

Name one person who has influenced your life: Although this might seem cliche, my mom definitely has influenced me the most. She is a hard-working, strong, intelligent woman who built her own career.

What is your best high school memory? Junior year meant that all of my fiends and I finally got our driver's license. This new sense of freedom and frequent after-school outings to Taco Bell were some of my best memories.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: President of Big Brothers Big Sisters at my school; teacher's assistant at the Science Center of Pinellas.

Alexander M. Ferguson, 18

Northeast High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would initiate a new economic stimulus plan, where all citizens over 45 years of age are given $2 million and forced to retire from work. Millions of jobs would open up for those under 45. Also, it would allow those who retire to invest their money wisely.

What is the secret to your success? Probably never stressing about tests, homework or any kind of assignments.

Name one person who has influenced your life: All of my teachers, friends and family … because I could always count on them to teach, enlighten, assist and even humor me.

What is your best high school memory? Being enrolled in the Todd Center at Northeast High School under the guidance of Felix McCauley.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: A dietary assistant at the Masonic Home of Florida.

Nhi T. Nguyen, 17

Osceola High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would put more priority into schools and make them a much better environment for students to learn.

What is the secret to your success? The way I've succeeded was by studying and doing my work as required.

Name one person who has influenced your life: Everyone, actually, influenced my life because looking at everyone, I can see the consequences of doing certain things, so I choose to do things that result in good consequences.

What is your best high school memory? My best high school memory is when all of my friends, or at least most of them, came together and celebrated Chinese New Years during school. We all brought food, put tables together and partied right in the cafeteria.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Math tutor, Vietnamese tutor and martial arts instructor.

Emanuel Manco, 17

Pinellas Park High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? If I were president, I would like to put an end to the war.

What's the secret to your success? I think the secret to my success is the way I prepare for tests. I try to understand the material instead of just memorizing it.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My eighth-grade physics teacher, Mr. Pookes. His love for science made me want to study it, which is why I plan on becoming an engineer.

What is your best high school memory? My best high school memory would be the lunch table because I sat with the same people all four years. We were friends in and out of school.

List your top volunteer work/community projects/job: My top senior job would be lifeguarding in a pool. I worked for two years, and I would recommend everyone try it.

Melissa Giddings, 18

Seminole High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? If I were president, I would mandate a full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

What's the secret to your success? Setting a goal early and prioritizing. The secret to sanity — something vital to success — is letting yourself pursue all of your interests and having friends who will snap you out of it when you get too intense.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My brother, Michael, taught me to be true to myself, always, and to embrace my eccentricities. I consider him very influential.

What is your best high school memory? My best high school memory is junior prom.

List your top volunteer work/community projects/job: My senior volunteer project took place at Heritage Village, where I was a junior docent.

Emily Marie Miller, 17

St. Petersburg High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would spend less money on the military and instead focus on lessening our dependence on foreign oil through renewable resources.

What is the secret to your success? Intrinsic motivation. I am driven to do well academically because I truly want to learn.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My mom, Linda Punzak. She taught me how to be an individual and think for myself, and most importantly to be a strong person. I couldn't be more grateful for everything she's done for me.

What is your best high school memory? All of my time spent with my best friend, Morgan Kevorkian, over the past four years has made my high school experience so much greater.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: My top senior volunteer project is at Pet Pal Animal Shelter. I also work at Burrito Boarder in downtown St. Petersburg.

Danielle Rossbach, 18

St. Petersburg High School International Baccalaureate

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would support arts education.

What is the secret to your success? God has blessed me with much success by giving me wonderful parents who chose to homeschool me through elementary and middle school. Through my mother's teaching, I developed a love for learning.

Name one person who has influenced your life: Other than my parents, who have influenced me the most, Chris Watson, my academic coach. He has encouraged me in my academic studies but … has also encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a professional musician.

What is your best high school memory? The collaboration of so many people to present a concert to benefit Darfur.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Music Therapy Volunteer at All Children's Hospital.

Amanda Lynn Emery, 18

St. Pete Collegiate High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? I would promote a greater respect for human life from conception until death and appoint Supreme Court justices with high values.

What is the secret to your success? My Christian faith and determination. I do the best with what God has given me by setting goals and working hard to achieve them.

Name one person who has influenced your life: A best friend, my father; he taught me to be a leader, overcome obstacles, always have a sense of humor, do what is right and so much more.

What is your best high school memory? Being accepted into St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, where I was able to face many new challenges.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Spreading awareness regarding children in Uganda.

Jennifer Shelby, 18

Largo High School

I have had spectacular teachers at Largo High School. Particularly, my drama teacher, Mrs. Wortock, has supported me both onstage and off for four years. Her class helped me build leadership skills and self-confidence.

Be yourself. Don't ever let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big. Surround yourself with people who will support you in achieving your dreams. And have fun!

do you have to be hopeful about the future? I feel that my generation is more accepting, understanding and embracing of differences than generations past.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: Largo High School Drama Club/International Thespian Society Troupe 911; president, Spanish Honor Society; National Honor Society; National Art Honor Society.

Monica Pham, 18

Dixie Hollins High School

If you were president, what one thing would you change? If I were president, I suppose I would change foreign affairs. I think that if America dealt with them differently, then the economy would not be as bad as it is today.

What is the secret to your success? I get things done. It might take awhile, and I might wait until I absolutely have to do something, but I get it done, eventually.

Name one person who has influenced your life: My mom, as cliche as that sounds. I would not have made it to where I am today without her.

What is your best high school memory? I have to say it is when I met my first high school friend in 10th grade, while playing volleyball. It was strange because I found out that I actually had a few other classes with her.

List your top volunteer work/community project/job: I mostly just tutor math.

South Pinellas County valedictorians and salutatorians for 2009 05/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 2:04pm]

    

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