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County's Outstanding Senior leaves big imprint, but ready to move on

“Right off the bat in high school — and it’s hard to do this — I had a place. All the discipline I learned, all the people beside me were a huge impact on my life — especially the instructors. I tried to be a well-rounded student, but JROTC was my core.” Tyler Wetherill, 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District
“Right off the bat in high school — and it’s hard to do this — I had a place. All the discipline I learned, all the people beside me were a huge impact on my life — especially the instructors. I tried to be a well-rounded student, but JROTC was my core.” Tyler Wetherill, 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District
Published Mar. 23, 2016

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was March Madness week at Mitchell High School, and Tyler Wetherill, in celebratory tropical garb, was enjoying the revelry of Hawaiian Dress Up Day.

"I love dress-up days — that's one of the things I love about this school," Wetherill said as he took a seat and plunked a small coconut on the table in front of him.

Graduation is nearing, and, like many high school seniors, the future is much on the mind of Wetherill, who in December was named the 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District.

The process of selecting the Outstanding Senior begins in the fall, when students in Pasco high schools are given a list of their peers who meet the criteria — "exemplary academic record, service, leadership, citizenship and evidence of commitment to school and community." School faculty then vote on the top 10 students selected by their peers. The finalists from each school fill out an application outlining their achievements and are then interviewed by the school district's Outstanding Senior review committee.

Wetherill is the first student from Mitchell to garner the honor, said Mitchell career specialist Michele Chamberlin, who organizes the school-level selection.

He's headed to the University of Florida on an ROTC scholarship. But the young man with an easy smile and polite, commanding nature certainly has left an imprint at Mitchell High.

"I just see him as a great role model. He has great interactions with other students, is well respected with our staff, and he's willing to put himself out there," said Chamberlin, recalling Wetherill's recent impromptu performance in a school lip-synch contest. "He's just a lot of fun."

A long list of high school achievements fill Wetherill's two-page resume.

He carries a weighted 4.43 grade point average, is ranked 12th in a senior class of 376 and has racked up multiple academic honors, including an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor Award and the Florida Scholar Award in the subjects of reading, science and mathematics.

He was voted president of the school National Honor Society and Interact Club, and participated in various school organizations, including Psychology Club, Key Club and homecoming court. He lettered in cross country and track and field.

His most prideful work has been as a cadet in Mitchell High's Navy JROTC, where he presently serves as commanding officer under instructors Commander Steven Okun and Gunnery Sgt. Freddie Jones.

While JROTC is a big part of Wetherill's life now, his introduction was more of a happy accident than a planned path.

During his freshman year, it was one of the last options for an elective course, he explained. "It was this or PE, and I didn't want to take PE."

It ended up being a good fit.

"Right off the bat in high school — and it's hard to do this — I had a place," he said. "All the discipline I learned, all the people beside me were a huge impact on my life — especially the instructors. I tried to be a well-rounded student, but JROTC was my core."

Wetherill worked his way up, from cadet to platoon leader in his freshman and sophomore years, academic officer in his junior year and finally top honors in his senior year as cadet lieutenant commander and commanding officer.

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"He was like most freshmen — came in quiet, wasn't very aggressive, but showed a lot of potential to be a leader," Okun said. "We noticed that and started to pull it out of him, and he took it all on very quickly."

Wetherill acknowledge he's had success in JROTC. "But I have to give props to (Executive Officer) Ashley Stahl and (Command Master Chief) Stephen LaDue. I see them as equals," he said. "We all work together to keep everything running — to keep the unit in check. I could not do any of it without them."

And while he might carry the honor as Outstanding Senior, Wetherill is quick to point out the assets of others.

"Every student is capable of being an outstanding senior," he said. "Everyone has something they excel at, whether they are good with their hands, go to Harvard or go into the military because that's what calls them."

Throughout his high school career, Wetherill volunteered regularly, helping out in the soup kitchen at Metropolitan Ministries, with Toys for Tots and in a church program.

Some of the most eye-opening volunteer work he has done has been on summer mission trips as a member of Generations Christian Church. He spent time in New Orleans helping to rebuild homes and making sandwiches for those who are homeless. In a poverty-stricken city in Mexico, he dispersed medicine and gave toys to children.

"I never had to worry about having a roof over my head or food in my belly. I've been fortunate that my parents have always been able to provide for me."

Wetherill applied to various colleges but opted early for the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he plans to major in biomedical engineering or nuclear engineering before beginning a career as an officer in the Navy.

"My heart's calling me to be a Gator," he said.

Leaving Mitchell will be bittersweet, nonetheless.

"I have friends that I've known since elementary school that are going to other schools. There are teachers here that have impacted my life. I'm going to miss them," he said. "I have been blessed to go to this school. But I'm excited about the future and very willing to leave."

Contact Michele Miller at mmiller@tampabay.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.

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