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Athena Society's Young Women of Promise rise from failures to achieve

It's an unlikely topic for the 10 impressive young women recognized for the Athena Society's 2018 Dr. Sylvia Richardson Young Women of Promise Program.

But for these high school juniors, failure has proven to be the spur that has driven them to the achievements they most value.

"Failure forced me to step back and evaluate where I went wrong," said Greta Dieck, a student at Academy of the Holy Names. "I learned the importance of failing with purpose."

At the society's 38th annual recognition luncheon at the Centre Club, the honorees exemplified the leadership qualities as well as the academic and extracurricular achievement that echo the Athena Society's own role as an organization of leading business and professional women. The students were the event's focus; as each of them spoke, the assembled Athena Society members did, as President Doretha Edgecomb anticipated, "feel inadequate and insignificant" in comparison.

Dieck described the failure of her first meeting heading the Cross Out Cancer, Inc. fundraiser – only one person showed up. It forced her to re-evaluate how she had approached the project. The fundraiser ended up raising more than $80,000 for pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Personal setbacks helped Plant High's Alyssa Nagle re-emphasize long term goals. Failing to achieve expected extracurricular goals, she realized, "I had defined myself by my accomplishments. Turning my attention elsewhere has helped me refocus." Nagle plans to apply to West Point. When she encounters prejudice against women in the military, "it just strengthens my resolve."

"Military brat," Madison Hungerford of Durant High moved frequently before she arrived in Tampa. She suffered through bullying over her weight. Recalling her experiences in settling into other communities, however, she adopted the mantra, "Never let anyone get you down."

That kind of confidence is something Berkley Prep's Isabella Schlact can echo. A seventh-grade "improv" class taught her the value of thinking on her feet: "I didn't have time to worry about judgement."

Isabella now teaches improv classes for Berkeley Academy, the school's outreach program for low-income students, and has developed a program for the Boys & Girls Club.

The gap between ability and opportunity also inspired Aash-na Kadiwar, a Strawberry Crest IB student, to work with Adopt-A-Block in Lealman, providing meals and other needs to the homeless.

"I'm usually surrounded by people with the same advantages. This is eye-opening."

Gaither High's Christina Sia learned "bayanihan," or "helping the community," as a child in the Phillipines. This is as much a part of her focus as her high academic achievement.

"Helping others makes me strive to do more for my community."

Khloe Dang of Hillsborough High School would agree. "My purpose in life is to provide service," she said. Her experience volunteering with Special Olympics provided her insight into goals beyond academic achievement. "I'm not ever going to stop," Khloe said.

Robinson High School IB student Sydney Van Aelst attributes her leadership qualities to her family. As the eldest of four, she said, "It provides a great feeling of accomplishment for me that I can provide an example for younger people."

All of these young women balance academic and personal goals, a challenge that Sickles High's Presley Pettit sees as her greatest achievement. Presley separates what's asked of her from what she most wants.

"Once you have balance, you can be happy," even with the full schedule of a high achiever.

"Failure is not something to be ashamed of. It's a component of success," said Katherine Methany, Newsome High School. Katherine recounted her first JROTC drill competition as a Platoon Leader. She forgot commands and almost quit, but ultimately decided that she was not ready to give up. "Without failure, we don't know what we can achieve."

While this year's Young Women of Promise may, at times, face failure in their futures, being able to use those challenges as motivation can be more valuable than their greatest successes.

As Edgecomb said, "Our world is going to be a better place in the hands of these young women."

Times staff writer Monique Welch contributed to this report. Contact Emily L. Hay Hinsdale at

Sydney Van Aelst

Thomas R. Robinson High School

Sydney, who helps the elderly at Angel's Senior Living and serves as a coach with Teens in Action, works to serve as a role model for her three younger siblings. The IB scholar excels with a 5.32 weighted GPA and also shines as a varsity cheerleader. Sydney hopes to combine her passions for service, medicine and skin health by becoming a dermatologist.

Khloe Dang

Hillsborough High School

Khloe, who maintains a 4.0 unweighted GPA, started a new club at school to help decrease homelessness. She's the only female on the Mu Alpha Theta team, and strives to serve as a role model for other females interested in math and science. Khloe is also a dancer who has helped lead her school's dancerette program to honors in many competitions.

Greta Dieck

Academy of the Holy Names

Greta cites her biggest accomplishment as serving as executive director of Cross Out Cancer, a student-led nonprofit that raised more than $80,000 for pediatric cancer patients at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. She captains her cross country team, is active in speech and debate club and aspires to become a civil rights attorney.

Madison Hungerford

Durant High School

Madison has overcome the obstacles of being bullied and living in 13 countries in a military family by serving as the senator and secretary of her school's Student Government and Junior Council, and as vice president of FBLA. She also has organized a support group for military kids while maintaining a 4.9 weighted GPA. She will pursue an aerospace engineering degree.

Aashna Kadiwar

Strawberry Crest High School

Aashna's IB program requires community service, but her passion for helping others has led her to several nonprofit efforts, including raising more than $21,000 for the Children's Miracle Network, and helping children at the Village Early Learning Center with art lessons. She ranks in the top 4 percent of IB district students, and wants a career in medicine.

Katherine Metheny

Joe E. Newsome High School

A standout JROTC student leader, Katherine has earned a 7.17 weighted GPA and is a three-time recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Service award for achieving more than 100 hours of volunteer service, including work at Brandon Regional. She's also a talented visual artist. She will aim to serve in the military after earning an aeronautical engineering degree.

Alyssa Nagle

H.B. Plant High School

A member of a military family, Alyssa succeeds in academics, athletics, music and swimming, where she is a three-time National Meet qualifier. She's in the upper two percent of her class with a 4.0 unweighted GPA. She's also an award-winning member of her school's orchestra, and will perform with players of the Italian Opera in Italy this summer.

Presley Pettit

Walter L. Sickles High School

Presley's passion for helping others includes serving as a gymnastics coach and math tutor. She's an advanced placement dual enrollment student ranked in the top one percent of her class, and also succeeds as a varsity and All Star cheerleader. She prides herself on balancing her many activities, and hopes to become a certified clinical nutritionist.

Isabella Schlact

Berkeley Preparatory School

An improv actor, Isabella aims to challenge negative issues through writing, public speaking and theatre. She was selected to give a Berkeley Prep TEDx talk on confidence and has developed a class at Berkeley Academy to help motivate students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Isabella stays active while maintaining a rigorous course schedule.

Christina Sia

Vivian Gaither High School

As a child in the Philippines, Christina knew she wanted a career in healthcare to honor the Filipino tradition of people working together. She has a 5.2 weighted GPA, earned the Oxbridge Academic Scholarship, and studied at Harvard College last year. She also volunteers at Tampa General. Adjusting to her new life in the U.S. has helped hone her mental toughness.