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For Most Outstanding Senior Max Keenan, helping others is a priority

“People who have been given so many blessings — it’s sort of their job to take care of others.” Max Keenan, the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior for Pasco County schools
“People who have been given so many blessings — it’s sort of their job to take care of others.” Max Keenan, the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior for Pasco County schools
Published Mar. 1, 2017

LAND O'LAKES — At 6-foot-2, Max Keenan cuts a tall figure as he walks the campus, save when he pauses mid-conversation to snatch a discarded cellophane wrapper blowing across his path.

It's a small gesture — but one that speaks volumes about Keenan's character.

And that's something that carries weight with the students and faculty who voted Keenan as the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior at Land O'Lakes High last fall, and with the panel of final judges that gave him the title of Most Outstanding Senior for the entire county.

"He is extremely charismatic and outgoing. He's one of the most reliable people I know," said good friend and classmate Emily Hernandez. "That's one of my favorite qualities about Max. He's a trustworthy, always-be-there-for-you kind of guy."

When it comes to meeting the criteria for the honor, Keenan fits the bill.

"He has proven himself to be a model of what we expect our students to become," said Jeff Morgenstein, assistant principal of the International Baccalaureate program at Land O'Lakes High. "He stepped up to meet his potential not only in school, but in every aspect of his life. This is the kid you want your kid to grow up to be."

"I've written so many letters of recommendations for him, and I can tell you it's very easy," said Land O'Lakes High tennis coach Tanner Schmitz. "It just flows out. He's very selfless. Always willing to help out. Hard working. The kid you hope rubs off on the kids around him."

Keenan was the first call Schmitz made when he learned a middle school student in his church youth group was struggling in math.

"I asked Max if he would tutor this kid, and, without any hesitation, he said, " 'What day?' " Schmitz said. "That's who he is."

Keenan, 18, is smart, as evidenced by his 4.0 unweighted and 4.75 weighted grade point averages, which rank him 14th in the district. He was recently named a Merit Scholar finalist for outstanding standardized test scores. Accepted to a number of colleges, he has selected the University of Chicago, where he plans to study law and politics, spurred by a visit to the school by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney prior to the 2012 election.

Keenan is polite and well spoken, especially when sharing his interests. He's especially passionate about education, having learned about policy from his mother, Kimberly Keenan, a former elementary school principal and current supervisor of elementary language arts and reading for Hillsborough County schools.

"She instilled a love for education and prioritizing the well-being of others in her tireless work as an educator," Keenan said, adding that she helped direct him to the IB program.

"Making the decision to join IB is the best decision I've made in my educational career," he said, noting the appeal of the cross-curriculum focus. "The teachers and administrators have been absolutely phenomenal."

He's also athletic, serving as captain of the school tennis team, a sport he took up two years ago.

"Max is the type of person that when he puts his mind to doing something, he does it," said his mother, recalling her son's desire to make the team, even though he'd never played before. "He worked like a dog, and he did it. He gave himself three weeks to learn how to play. He worked every single day and has continued to work every single day since."

"He is extremely self-motivated," said his father, Tracy Keenan. "He's done this all by himself."

And humble, too, said Tracy Keenan, recalling how he first learned his son was captain of the tennis team at the end of the 2016 season, when he and his doubles partner, Albert Xing, qualified for the state meet.

Keenan said he enjoys membership in the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, a club he credits for honing his public speaking skills, which earned first place in district-level competition and fourth place at state during the 2015-16 school year.

He also serves as vice president and co-founder of the school investment club, is the coordinator for Relay for Life and vice president and co-founder of a school club called Cakes for a Cause.

"We sponsor food drives for organizations like Feeding America," he said. "But we also educate kids about how many kids their age don't have enough to eat. People who have been given so many blessings — it's sort of their job to take care of others."

That philosophy rings true whether Keenan is relearning lessons in genetics and cellular respiration so he can help another student struggling with AP Biology, coordinating Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society or picking up a piece of litter on the school campus.

"I think the thing about Max that I admire the most is that he really does care about making a difference with every person he comes in contact with," Kimberly Keenan said. "He lives by the motto of kindness, and when it's all said and done, that's what's important."

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