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Catch up with Pasco's Class of 2000 valedictorians

Here's a shock: The 14 top graduates of Pasco County's public high schools from the year 2000 are doing great. They are doctors and lawyers and business executives and professors. Some are parents and world travelers.

Most would like to attend their 10th reunion, maybe combine it with a visit to the parents. But they're awfully busy and far away. They hold fond memories and speak highly of the education they received in Pasco, but their home addresses now include San Francisco, Washington, New York, Denver, Toronto.

They share a claim to fame as the first graduates associated with the 21st century — something that has captured Hollywood's attention in the new ABC series My Generation.

And while their first decade out of high school has witnessed war and an economic collapse not seen since the 1930s, these Pasco County bright lights should give us all hope for the future. Let's catch up.

Hudson High: Michelle Hurtado and Nick Rule

Michelle Hurtado graduated from Duke University and joined American Airlines pricing flights. She moved up rapidly in the company and took charge turning around a struggling business unit. Through study abroad programs and American, she visited 70 countries. She married John Mentgen in 2006 and they both earned master's business degrees this year from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Wharton, she served as president of the 400-person General Management Club. She was recruited to Citigroup, the world's largest bank, "and I am now helping companies manage their money across 140 countries,'' she said.

Michelle and her husband live in San Francisco, but she manages to visit family in Pasco frequently and stays in touch with friends. She recently ran two marathons and several half-marathons and has taken up trail running and biking.

Nick Rule earned his degree from Dartmouth College where he double-majored in psychology and linguistics. He received a doctorate in psychology last May at Tufts University and is now a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, where he holds the honor of Canada Research Chair in Social Psychology bestowed by the Canadian government. He has published 33 peer-reviewed academic papers, with much of his work featured in the popular press including Time, the Economist, USA Today and on National Public Radio.

"In short,'' he said, "my research examines how we're able to form accurate impressions about people just by looking at them.'' Part of his research uses functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to observe brain function when making these judgments.

His family still lives here but his busy schedule makes it hard to get home. He said he got a "first-rate'' social sciences education at Hudson High. But looking back, he said teachers and administrators spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on disciplinary problems.

River Ridge High: Vincent Chow and Anand Patel

Vincent Chow filled out a form 10 years ago that included Ideal Career.

"Professor of medicine,'' he answered. Then he went off to the University of Miami and completed an eight-year degree two years early. Now he is Vincent E. Chow, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the prestigious University of California San Francisco Medical Center.

"In retrospect,'' he said, "I strongly believe that my education at River Ridge set me up for success. I had great teachers who really cared about my education and development. Particularly, I recall Mr. (Ed) Braddy, who taught Advanced Placement biology and chemistry. He constantly challenged me intellectually and enabled my growth and maturation as a scientist.''

Vincent's parents still live in West Pasco and he tries to get home occasionally. He has two older sisters who are also doctors and a longtime girlfriend in Los Angeles. She took the picture of him sailing that accompanies this story.

Anand Patel earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "but I couldn't see myself spending a career programming.'' So he decided to apply his skills to the law. He became a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Virginia. As usual, he excelled. MIT brought him back to Boston to lecture a class called "Inventions and Patents.''

He decided to get a law degree and entered the University of Virginia, where he became editor-in-chief of the Virginia Journal of Law and Technology. He graduated in May and took the Texas Bar exam in July. He is slated to join the Washington, D.C., law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker in November.

Anand's parents moved to Texas seven years ago, and his only connection with Pasco these days is through a few childhood friends. He spent last week hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

Zephyrhills High: Deanna Hasenauer, Anurekha Krishnaraj, Pamela Moses

After earning the highest academic honors on her way to a bachelor's degree in nuclear and radiological engineering at the University of Florida, Deanna Hasenauer received a five-year Department of Energy pre-doctoral fellowship in 2004. She would leave UF with master's and doctorate degrees in the same discipline, specializing in medical health physics.

Her work has been published in several peer-reviewed scientific journals and she has lectured at national and international conferences. She interned with the U.S. Transuranium and Uranium Registries through Washington State University in 2006.

In 2009 Deanna accepted a three-year fellowship in clinical medical physics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in the department of radiation oncology. She is receiving training in therapeutic medical physics in the practice of cancer treatments.

Deanna married Brian Pafundi in 2007 in Tampa. He will receive his law degree from the University of Florida in December. Deanna's family still lives in Zephyrhills.

Anurekha Krishnaraj got a marketing degree at the University of Florida in 2004 and promptly realized her true passion: science. So she got accepted in the pharmacy program at the University of Houston. "During my first summer in pharmacy school,'' she said, "I married the most wonderful man ever'' — Mo Azeem. She recently became a pharmacist for Sam's Club Pharmacy in Houston.

"As my 10-year class reunion approaches,'' Rekha said, "I can't help but think about school days. The public school system, from West Elementary to Stewart Middle and finally Zephyrhills High, prepared me socially and academically to be where I am today.''

She said she missed the small town life and enjoys returning to visit her parents and family.

Pamela Moses knew in high school that she wanted to be a dentist. She entered the challenging pre-med curriculum at the University of Florida and earned straight A's on her way to a degree in zoology with a minor in sociology. She then entered the University of Pennsylvania's School of Dental Medicine on a Navy academic scholarship. In 2007, she married Gregory Hartman, an urban planner. The next year she was awarded a Dental Medicine Degree and entered the Navy as a lieutenant. She was stationed in Okinawa as part of the 3rd Dental Battalion and served aboard the USS Essex and the USS Harper's Ferry. She was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal and Sea Services Deployment ribbon, "which was a huge honor for me,'' she said.

Lt. Pamela Hartman is now stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where she provides dental care to Marines and sailors as part of the 2nd Dental Battalion. She expects to attend her 10th high school reunion in October.

Pasco High: Janet Goldschmidt and Lucinda Hickey

Janet Goldschmidt wasn't sold on the idea of going to the University of Florida, "but I came out a Gator through and through. It turned me into a serious sports fan!'' It also presented her with a bachelor's in biology and a master's in secondary science education, which led her to teach biology at inner city schools in Boston.

From the time she was 11, Janet wanted to live in New York. So now she is teaching seventh-grade life science at the private, progressive K-12 Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Her passion for travel has taken her around the world. She set out alone for six weeks across Europe and took a three-month road trip from New York to Panama, passing through all of Central America. She climbed two active volcanos and sled down one in Nicaragua (see photo). "I am a surprisingly good skier for someone who grew up in Florida.''

She came home to visit her mom and sister and attended her 10th reunion. "I was so glad I decided to go because I was able to reconnect with some wonderful people I had lost touch with since we left school.''

Lucinda Hickey as a high school senior decided her ideal career would be as a foreign missionary. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at Cedarville University in Ohio and began working on a master's in psychology and counseling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In the first week, she met Will King and they married on Dec. 31, 2004, in Dade City.

Hurricane Katrina forced the Kings out of New Orleans, and soon Will became youth pastor at a church in Live Oak in north Florida, where they had their first child, Makayla. They relocated to another church in Baytown, near Houston, last summer and welcomed their second child, Gabe.

She still visits family in Dade City. Ten years later, she gives the Pasco school system an A+.

Land O'Lakes High: Ryan Kent and Phillip Landgraf

Ryan Kent's distinguished career at the University of Florida included positions with the student government and the editorial board of the student newspaper. He studied in the United Kingdom and Morocco and then graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in economics and political science.

He worked in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., "a thrilling and eye-opening experience.'' And then last year he earned a law degree from Columbia University. He is back in Washington with his fiancee of nine years and figures to concentrate on politics and lawmaking.

Ryan maintains ties with Pasco and often visits his parents. "The school system in Pasco did a fine job serving me,'' he said, "though I emphasize that may have been due to the honors and Advanced Placement courses that were made available. … I was fortunate to have gifted and inspiring teachers, including (but not limited to) Patrick Connelly, Doris Soto and Katherine Sims.''

Phil Landgraf wrote in his valedictorian profile that he wanted to become a chef at a five-star restaurant. He was off to Johnson & Wales University's new Denver campus on full scholarship. He pursued his passion for culinary arts, studying in Singapore and Thailand, where he met Kelly from the Johnson & Wales campus in Providence, R.I. They would marry in 2005.

Phil joined William Caruso & Associates after graduation and has excelled in food service design and construction. He has completed about 100 projects ranging from universities, hotels, restaurants, health care facilities and convention centers. His current projects include renovating the food service areas at Madison Square Garden in New York and a university in the Middle East.

Phil and Kelly have a 5-year-old daughter, Ava, who just began kindergarten in a charter school near Denver where Kelly teaches eighth-grade. His mother and stepfather still live in Land O'Lakes.

Ridgewood High: Tara Catterson and Jason Miller

Tara Catterson graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in chemistry and in 2008 earned a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Florida. She immediately became a pharmacy manager for Walgreen's in Greenville, Tenn.

This year, Tara married David Brougham, a 2000 graduate of River Ridge High, and they adopted Brendan Ryan. Her mother and brother Ryan (also a pharmacist and 1999 graduate of Ridgewood) followed her to Tennessee.

Tara says honors classes in public high schools do not adequately prepare students for college. "Thankfully, the system offered AP classes, which were often challenging,'' she said.

Jason Miller earned degrees from Brown University in comparative literature and Arabic language. He studied and worked in Cairo, Egypt, for three years, returning to the United States in 2007. He works as a wholesale power trader for a private investment company in northern Virginia. He is married and father of a 3-month-old son. In his spare time, Jason coaches a fifth- and sixth-grade boys basketball team. His parents still live and work in Pasco County. As for his Pasco education, Jason singled out his fifth-grade teacher at Richey Elementary, Dr. Jeanne Mills, and his high school history teacher, Brian Cohen.

Gulf High: Eric Breitenstein

On his way to the University of Florida in 2000, Eric Breitenstein demonstrated his sense of humor with his ideal career: "One where I can make lots of money while exerting virtually no effort and be surrounded by college interns. In other words, a congressman.''

He majored in philosophy and took minors in economics and mathematics. He worked for UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research and interned in Washington, D.C., for the Council of Economic Advisers. He later attended George Mason University and earned a master's degree in economics at the University of Chicago.

"I used my skills as an economist to become a Walgreens Digital Photo Specialist,'' Eric said, "until I was contacted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., who wanted to use my skills in economics for something relevant to the economy." Still single, he lives in Fairfax, Va.

His mother and stepfather still live in New Port Richey.

We'll let Eric have the final word:

"As I look back, I had exceptional teachers and professors at all levels of my education, from pre-kindergarten through university. Indeed, the University of Chicago and George Mason may be well regarded schools, but their faculty cannot hold a candle to my University of Florida professors, and to this day I remember fondly my teachers from Gulf High School.''

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Bill Stevens is the Times' editor in Pasco County. He can be reached at stevens@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6250.

Fast facts

Growth spurt: In 2000, Pasco had only seven public high schools with graduating seniors. Soon after, Wesley Chapel and Mitchell High joined the group. Four other high schools later opened: Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch, Anclote and Fivay.

The Pasco factor

From county schools to college and beyond.

"I can't help but think about school days. The public school system, from West Elementary to Stewart Middle and finally Zephyrhills High, prepared me socially and academically to be where I am today.''

Anurekha Krishnaraj, Zephyrhills High

"The school system in Pasco did a fine job serving me, though I emphasize that may have been due to the honors and Advanced Placement courses that were made available."

Ryan Kent, Land O'Lakes High

Catch up with Pasco's Class of 2000 valedictorians 10/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 2, 2010 4:35pm]

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