For Leto High junior Jocelyn Macho, the artistic renderings she creates go beyond self-expression.
They are a means of connecting with fellow students.
"My friends come to me and tell me their experiences and I draw for them," Jocelyn said. "I draw emotions, I draw the beauty in people. I focus on human nature because it really is a beautiful thing, how complex we all are, how complex our emotions and our lives are."
The same words Jocelyn used to describe her works applied to the Athena Society's annual Young Women Of Promise luncheon on April 7. Since 1981, the group of prestigious female leaders have annually turned an eye to the future and honored 10 outstanding high school juniors.
The society asked each honoree to stand and speak about one of her proudest accomplishments — no easy task given that the room was full of judges, chief executive officers, elected officials, doctors and other successful women.
I've treasured the opportunity to write about many of the winners over the years, but I can't recall a previous luncheon at the Centre Club containing so many complex and beautiful emotions. Three of the winners spoke about losing close friends to tragedy, about how they found leadership in their resiliency.
Even on a day when they were supposed to receive inspiration, they found ways to inspire.
Jocelyn, for instance, shared thoughts about her artwork, which has been featured at the Tampa Museum Of Art, and about her approach to school and extracurricular activities. She has logged more than 200 volunteer hours through Junior Civitan while serving in a variety of clubs and practicing martial arts.
The emotion in her voice rose, however, when she spoke about her dedication and devotion at home.
Her mother has had two back surgeries and is incapable of most physical activities. "So on top of homework and martial arts and everything, I have to go home and do the chores," Jocelyn said. "Well, everything except cook. I can't cook."
While Jocelyn spoke of balancing an active lifestyle, Wharton High's Jamila Blake spoke of balancing the stressful demands of teen life with the desire to help those enduring more difficult challenges. Jamila created the Global Outreach Club at her school two years ago to focus on those children less fortunate and partnered with Invisible Children, a movement in Uganda, to help teens who have suffered through a 25-year civil war.
Through Invisible Children, the club actually got to host a Ugandan girl and her mentor.
"She lost all of her family but still wanted to make a difference in other people's lives who have been affected by this war," Jamila said. "We were able to show her a normal school day … and she inspired me to keep going in my pursuit to help her."
Jamila, a College Board AP Scholar and Girl Scout pursuing her Gold Award, helped host a festival at Wharton this year to raise money and awareness for the plight of Ugandans. The "Roots for Peace Festival" netted more than $550 to help rebuild a Ugandan school.
Tampa Prep's Cynthia Anne Matar, who lives in Town 'N Country, presented one of the more engaging stories, sharing that she took debate class just to get a history credit, then was pressed into service for the debate team because someone dropped out.
She ended up meeting her teammates at the airport to fly to Boston for a debate, but didn't fit in at first.
"I awkwardly tried to make conversation about an activity that I had no idea about because I spent the entire semester goofing off and making fun of policy and debate," Cynthia said.
Lo and behold, she partnered with Chloe Costa and ended up winning. Although she plays piano, volunteers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and aspires to be a chef and own a restaurant, Cynthia cited her debate experience as her biggest accomplishment because it taught her a valuable lesson.
"People who had never stepped outside of their comfort zone and tried something new … would never understand how I felt," she said. "I feel sorry for those people because I feel fabulous."
The other Young Women of Promise for 2011 are: Ana Herbst, Academy of the Holy Names; Shelby Johnson, Plant City; Alison Preston, Plant; Morgan Leigh Rogers, Riverview; Jasmine Santiago, Middleton; Sophia Tahiri, Robinson; and Shelby Paige Terihay, Durant.
Each honoree can say she found ways both big and small to step beyond her comfort zone. It's what makes them so promising.
That's all I'm saying.