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Meet the 2016 top grads for Pinellas County public schools

The valedictorians and salutatorians for the Class of 2016 in Pinellas County schools.
Published May 27, 2016

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: See the 2016 top graduates for Pinellas private schools

With graduation season upon us, we asked the top graduates from Pinellas County's public schools to reflect on what they got out of high school, to think about who helped them through it and to tell us about themselves and their plans. To get the discussion going, we asked them to consider the following:

INFLUENCED BY: Tell us about a person outside school who has influenced you and why.

SHOUT-OUT: Is there a teacher you want to thank?

HOW I CHANGED: Tell us how you have changed since freshman year.

THREE WORDS: What are three words that best describe you?

BEST THING I LEARNED: It can be anything you picked up in high school — a life lesson, a concept, a quote, something a teacher told you or a classmate taught you or you found out on your own.

Boca Ciega High

Da'Jhai Korea Denise Monroe, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.77

PARENTS: Kori and Twanna Monroe

COLLEGE: Florida State University, Tallahassee

INFLUENCED BY: My older brother, De' Jour. We were born on the same day, so I feel the need to supersede his stellar accomplishments. I think my valedictorian status was the first step.

SHOUT-OUT: To Dr. Alicia Isaac, because she believed in me, even when I didn't see my own potential.

HOW I CHANGED: I've come to understand that self-worth and self-esteem are controlled by me.

THREE WORDS: Industrious, personable, curious.

BEST THING I LEARNED: " … that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou

Lisa Lam, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.7164

PARENTS: Phuc Lam and My Linh Lam

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My dad, who taught me the value of having a good work ethic and believed in me more than anyone else. I wouldn't be where I am today without my dad.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Lynch, my pre-calculus and AP Calculus teacher, for being an encouraging and funny teacher who always pushed me to my fullest potential. Thank you for believing in my abilities to do greater things (whether or not it's in math).

HOW I CHANGED: Since freshman year, I have come to appreciate the value of education more and more. Realizing that not everyone has access to education, I have taken advantage of all the opportunities provided to advance in my education.

THREE WORDS: Ambitious, kindhearted, humble.

BEST THING I LEARNED: It is all about how much you make out of it. It is up to you to put in your best effort and to take every opportunity to succeed.

Clearwater High

Olivia Gabel, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.8095

PARENTS: Kieran and Russ Gabel

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My friends. I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Roble, who was an amazing guidance counselor and one of the most helpful people at Clearwater High. I also want to thank Mr. Larson and Mr. V, two awesome swim coaches.

HOW I CHANGED: I have become more outgoing, more knowledgeable and I have solidified lifelong friendships.

THREE WORDS: Independent, feminist, dedicated.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That it's not about working hard, it's about working smart.

Kevin McBride, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Steve and Jeny McBride

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. Her determination in taking full advantage of her educational opportunities has inspired me to always try my hardest in school.

SHOUT-OUT: To my 12th grade calculus teacher Mr. V. His passion for math and teaching really engaged me as a student.

HOW I CHANGED: I have gained confidence in my capabilities as a student and feel well-prepared to move on to college.

THREE WORDS: Hard-working, happy, independent.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That you don't have to be good with numbers to be good at math.

Justine Jerikk Chiong Tan, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Edwin and Janet Tan

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of such game franchises as Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. I always loved playing these games growing up and they are a big reason why I chose to pursue a career in game design.

SHOUT-OUT: To my grandmother, who was my Chinese teacher for one year in primary school, for always letting me stay in her class whenever my nose bled.

HOW I CHANGED: I think I was much more erratic and excitable in my freshman year. Hopefully now I am calmer and more resolute.

THREE WORDS: Keep. Moving. Forward.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To never give up and to always keep moving forward. The future isn't set in stone so if you don't like how it looks, then change it.

Kristen Wilson, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Carol and Jon Wilson

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mentor Julie Yaeger, who has influenced me to continue my hard work and do my best in school.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Ward, the volunteer coordinator at Clearwater High. She has always supported me throughout elementary, middle and high school years. She is someone I can always talk to and depend on every day if need be.

HOW I CHANGED: I've grown in my wisdom and realized that people change. I've pushed myself to try my hardest, and accepted the things I have no control of.

THREE WORDS: Dedication, hard-working, leader.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That not everything is given to you. However, I have been blessed, especially senior year, and given many experiences that I will never forget. I know that I'm going into a new chapter in my life along with many others and I wish you all the best, as you can only grow from the experiences and make the best of every moment if you allow it.

Countryside High

Nicolas LaCognata, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.86

PARENTS: Jennifer and Joseph LaCognata

COLLEGE: University of Central Florida, Orlando

INFLUENCED BY: My grandfather. He played a very big role in making me the person I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: To Daniel Smith, my CSIT (Computer Systems and Info Tech) teacher, for all the time he gave me in his class to study for my other classes.

HOW I CHANGED: I am much more confident and significantly less serious.

THREE WORDS: Could try harder.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That life is more enjoyable if you take it less seriously. "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated" — Confucius.

Alex Curtis Adolphson, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.84

PARENTS: Curtis and Wendy Adolphson

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents and grandparents, who have always been a motivational force in all aspects of my life. Without them, I would not be where I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: Numerous teachers and administrators have positively impacted my life. It is impossible to name just one of the many outstanding people that I would like to thank.

HOW I CHANGED: I have realized that one must enjoy life in the moment rather than always look to the future for happiness.

THREE WORDS: Motivated, tenacious, hard-working.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That resolve and perseverance lead to success.

Dixie Hollins High

Jennifer Wachowiak, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.78

PARENTS: Amy Wachowiak and Gary Wachowiak

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My grandpa, who has influenced me with his love of knowledge and problem solving. He was always very supportive of me and it drove me to do all I could to make him as proud as possible.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Carter Waterkeyn. He has been my mentor since my freshman year and has been an extremely influential force in my life.

HOW I CHANGED: I've come out of my shell a lot since freshman year. I think I realized that it's more fun to put yourself out there than to worry about what everyone else will think.

THREE WORDS: Ambitious, genuine, compassionate.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To forgive yourself. You can't let go of mistakes and be happy until you forgive yourself, even if everyone else already has.

Jaclyn Ann Yuanyue Even, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.66

PARENT: Elizabeth Even

COLLEGE: Florida State University, Tallahassee

INFLUENCED BY: My Aunt Cindy. She has taught me to always look at things in a positive way.

SHOUT-OUT: To Dr. Linda Rogowski, who is one of the best teachers I have ever had. She always managed to put a smile on my face with her easy-going personality and was there for me whenever I needed help.

HOW I CHANGED: I am more confident in myself than before, and am more willing to experience new things.

THREE WORDS: Bubbly, thoughtful, trustworthy.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That your true friends will always be by your side when you need help with something, no matter what happens.

Robert Watson

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.66

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

Dunedin High

Olivia Welsh, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.78

PARENTS: Ann and Jason Welsh

COLLEGE: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

INFLUENCED BY: My brother and sister, because they have showed that hard work truly pays off.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Howsare and Mr. Wiemer for their commitment to the track program and their unwavering support for my track endeavors.

HOW I CHANGED: I put a much bigger emphasis on appreciating relationships and the people in my life that make it amazing.

THREE WORDS: Opportunistic, competitive, lighthearted.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That life is all about perspective. "When it rains, look for rainbows. When it's dark, look for stars."

James Gray, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.76

PARENTS: Jenna and Peter Gray

COLLEGE: Florida State University, Tallahassee

INFLUENCED BY: Iain Donaldson, who directs the championship-winning City of Dunedin Pipe Band. He's responsible in large part for making me the musician I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: To the inner circle of AP teachers at Dunedin High as a whole. They moved and operated as a unit to teach me to be successful and learn every bit of who I am today.

HOW I CHANGED: As a freshman I was particularly introverted and had no long-term goals for anything. However, I have since seen a lot of the world, and with that broader knowledge I have a higher focus towards the rest of my life.

THREE WORDS: Layered, strong-willed, aware.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That understanding is more powerful than egotism, and how beneficial it is to simply listen.

East Lake High

Tatiana Rincon, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.8644

PARENTS: Victor and Liliana Rincon

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, who taught me to expect my best, not perfection.

SHOUT-OUT: To my elementary school gifted teacher, Mrs. Altenburg, for encouraging me to explore new areas of interest and to think outside the box.

HOW I CHANGED: Well, I've gotten older. But I'm also a lot more open to being myself in front of others. I guess that means I've grown more confident.

THREE WORDS: Driven, inquisitive, dedicated.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Life is a mind game. You have to learn to control your mind before you can begin to take control of your life.

Mackenzie Taylor Nalven, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.8246

PARENTS: Larry and Karen Nalven

COLLEGE: Stetson University, DeLand

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, all throughout my life. I have witnessed their remarkable work ethic, as well as their perseverance during hardships, and it has inspired me to work hard and be resilient. I would also like to thank my entire family for encouraging me through their love and support.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Hill for inspiring me in a way that touched my life forever, to Mrs. Harris for always being there for me, and to Mrs. Mobley for fostering my leadership attributes. I would also like to thank Mrs. Barbieri for inspiring me to follow my heart, Mr. Rocktoff for helping me realize my love for psychology, and Mr. Loftus for bringing humor to every lesson.

HOW I CHANGED: Entering high school I had the belief that talents and knowledge were innate, and there was nothing that I could do to get better. My high school experiences have shown me that, with hard work, anything is possible, and I have not stopped pushing myself ever since.

THREE WORDS: Thankful, blessed, grateful.

BEST THING I LEARNED: How to balance everything in my life. Running from school, to honor society meetings, to orchestra rehearsals, and to soccer practices, I definitely learned how to manage my time, as well as the importance of loyalty and commitment.

Academy of Engineering at East Lake High

Kyle Howarth, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.9667

PARENTS: Steve and Nerissa Howarth

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who taught me the value of hard work and dedication, and my mother, who taught me to be humble and the value of helping others.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Spennato, for teaching me that school is not simply about getting an education — it is about learning.

HOW I CHANGED: Through academics and sports, I have grown in my ability to set clear goals, focus my efforts toward those goals, balance competing demands for my time, handle setbacks, and celebrate successes along the way. I have a clear understanding of where I want to go and that we are all the result of our own effort.

THREE WORDS: Dedicated, tenacious, confident.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That hindrances are always going to be a part of life, and they are something we must simply endure. All I can do is endeavor to put forth the drive and determination to produce the best opportunity for success.

Julia Taylor Siegel, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.9333

PARENTS: Cary and Christina Siegel

COLLEGE: University of Virginia, Charlottesville

INFLUENCED BY: My sisters Sabrina and Sam. They're always there to remind me hard work does pay off, it just takes some time. I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't had them to look up to all my life.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Maisner and Mr. Loftus, for always bringing their enthusiasm to their students.

HOW I CHANGED: I'm a lot more willing to stand up for what I believe in, and to question the things that don't make sense to me.

THREE WORDS: "How would I describe myself? Three words. Hard-working. Alpha male. Jackhammer. Merciless. Insatiable." — Dwight Schrute, The Office

BEST THING I LEARNED: That confidence is key. Even if you are well-prepared, if you don't have the confidence to make it happen, it will never get done.

Gibbs High

Tatsiana M. Haverkamp, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.7397

PARENT: Cynthia Wilson

COLLEGE: University of South Florida St. Petersburg

INFLUENCED BY: My martial arts community. In particular, I admire and aspire to emulate one of our school's master instructors called Jackie Koehler.

SHOUT-OUT: To my sophomore year World History teacher, Mr. Giscard Bernard (the first AP teacher I ever had), who taught me a lot about how to better manage my time in order to keep up with the class work. I don't think I would have been able to pass the AP exam at the end of the year without him. Along with my many wonderful math teachers, I believe Mr. Bernard was probably one of the most capable instructors I ever had.

HOW I CHANGED: I'm less aggressive and much less in need of validation. I still have insecurities, but I feel much more confident in my abilities and secure in my own identity than I did in freshman year. I no longer need others to tell me whether I'm man or a woman or if I register as masculine or feminine. I know who I am, and I'll control how I present myself.

THREE WORDS: Creative, focused, honest.

BEST THING I LEARNED: How to sew and make my own clothes, thanks to some technical theater classes that I took. I think these skills are the best and most practical things I've learned in high school.

Indigo Naar, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.6615

PARENTS: Lynette Conat, mother; David Naar, father; and Randi Naar, stepmother

COLLEGE: Tufts University/School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

INFLUENCED BY: Master Tony Perri, who has been teaching me for five of the seven years I've been practicing Taekwondo, and I'm immensely thankful for everything he's done to support me and push me to be the best version of myself.

SHOUT-OUT: To Marty Loftus for supporting my artistic endeavors for the past four years and always finding time to listen to every question and crazy idea.

HOW I CHANGED: I've not only become far more skilled at multitasking and studying, but also far more open-minded and accepting of new ideas and opinions.

THREE WORDS: Resourceful, tenacious, enthusiastic.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Stretching myself to my limits is what gives me confidence in myself, and even when I fail I've always found gratification in knowing that I made the attempt. I learned to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter how overwhelming it may be.

Lakewood High

Joshua J. Roach, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.59

PARENTS: Alvin Roach and Pricilla Cohen

COLLEGE: Eckerd College, St. Petersburg

INFLUENCED BY: James Findley, a European aquascaper who has given me the inspiration to try to become a professional aquascaper, and has led me to never give up on my dream.

SHOUT-OUT: To my Spanish teacher Mrs. Santiago. She has always urged me to do my best, and has always been there for me over these past four years.

HOW I CHANGED: I've definitely gained more passion for aquascaping, and I've also become much more mature and responsible.

THREE WORDS: Passionate, entrepreneur, distinct.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To just do what makes you happy. I've done that for the past four years and now I'm a proud owner of my own company, JJ Aquatics.

Haley Dolan, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.27

PARENTS: James and Christina Dolan

COLLEGE: St. Petersburg College

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who has gone through so much in his life and has never given up. He's really helped me to see that if you set your mind to something, there's nothing you cannot achieve.

SHOUT-OUT: To Linda Santiago for helping me to not only do well in my classes at school, but also for never giving up on me and encouraging me to follow my dream to become a teacher.

HOW I CHANGED: I use to be very shy and reserved, but now I'm the head of the Spartan News Network (my school's newspaper) and have encouraged myself to join many clubs and organizations, which has helped me to become more sociable.

THREE WORDS: Determined, caring, friendly.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That the best way to predict the future is to create it. To me this means that if you want something for yourself, you have to work toward your goal in order to achieve it. And that's most certainly helped me get through the past few years, and I believe it will continue to assist me throughout my life.

Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High

Tyler James Bittner, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.90

PARENTS: Lynn and Kerry Bittner

COLLEGE: Texas A&M University, College Station

INFLUENCED BY: My father, not only as a student but as a person. He has always pushed me to achieve and do my very best, even when I didn't strive for it myself.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Laura Lake and Mr. Peter Oberg. They always wanted the best for their students and believed and had faith that their students could do anything, even when the students didn't believe it themselves.

HOW I CHANGED: I am kinder, more outgoing and much more confident in myself and who I want to be. I have grown up as a student, a person and a friend. I have learned from my mistakes and shortcomings along the way and it has helped me to become a better person.

THREE WORDS: Intelligent, sarcastic, passionate.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Nothing is guaranteed in life. You have to work for everything and not everything goes according to some preconceived "plan." Nothing will just be given to you in real life.

Nicholas A. Fox, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.88

PARENTS: Maria Fox and James Fox Jr.

COLLEGE: University of Washington, Seattle

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, who have molded me into who I am today by giving me instruction in how to be a good person both through teaching and through example.

SHOUT-OUT: To my middle school principal, Dr. Corbett. His support of my desire to start a web design club in middle school served as a foundation for my web development interest, which has led to opportunities the past few years.

HOW I CHANGED: I've become less of just a planner and more of both a planner and someone capable of taking the initiative to complete those plans.

THREE WORDS: Loyal, persistent, intelligent.

BEST THING I LEARNED: When designing a team, one should go with those who are best suited to the work, regardless of personal opinions.

Largo High

Anxhelo Agastra, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.73

PARENTS: Anita Agastra and Driton Agastra

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: My cousin Elda, who has always inspired me to be successful and to strive to be the best I can be.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Kaplan, for supporting me in my academic pursuits since freshman year and for always encouraging me to be successful in all of my endeavors.

HOW I CHANGED: I've become more resilient and less afraid to attempt things that are out of my comfort zone. I've also become less apt to let a challenge or obstacle inhibit me.

THREE WORDS: Driven, passionate, kind.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That all you can do in life is work your hardest, try your best and hope for a positive outcome.

Kayla Plantz, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.66

PARENTS: Kristina Davis and Phil Plantz

COLLEGE: University of Central Florida, Orlando

INFLUENCED BY: My gym coach, Amanda, who has influenced me by giving me the confidence in myself that I had lacked for many years.

SHOUT-OUT: To my guidance counselor Ms. Steele for not letting me slack in my senior year.

HOW I CHANGED: I don't believe that I have changed so much as continued to grow in a positive light. Throughout high school, I have maintained my determination for success and used such to pursue my goals.

THREE WORDS: Determined, dependable, steadfast.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

International Baccalaureate Program at Largo High

Jamie Hannukainen, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.9500

PARENT: Lisa Hannukainen

COLLEGE: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

INFLUENCED BY: Coach Dave, a soccer coach at the YMCA who taught me the importance of dedication, discipline and respect when I was around 6 years old. To this day, I value him as one of the biggest influences in my life and I'm almost entirely sure he is unaware of that fact.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Britton for his corny jokes and support during my four years, and I wish him luck in New York next year as he is leaving Largo High. I would also like to thank Ms. Wilson for her constant wisdom and putting up with my lunch-time rants.

HOW I CHANGED: I believe I have become more comfortable with always being myself no matter what others may think of me. Because of this, I've been able to establish strong bonds with people that truly accept me and I am thankful for those relationships.

THREE WORDS: Ambitious, logical, leader.

BEST THING I LEARNED: You don't study for a test; you study for life.

Shay Bidani, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.9206

PARENTS: Jatin Bidani and Mona Bidani

COLLEGE: Washington University, St. Louis

INFLUENCED BY: Robert Carter III. He did something our Founding Fathers couldn't.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Liem and Mrs. Olivero — the former for being an incredible administrator who really cares about the students, and the latter for always encouraging and inspiring me, even when I was not her student.

HOW I CHANGED: I think I'm smarter.

THREE WORDS: Determined, independent, focused.

BEST THING I LEARNED: If you put your mind to it you can accomplish your goals as long as you can accept the lows (if there are any) before you reach the highs. "We learn the most about ourselves based on our reactions to the pointlessness in life."

Northeast High

Janzen William Rich, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.88

PARENTS: William Rich and Kristin Bonnell

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Both of my parents. There is no person who has shaped who I am today more than they have. I want to thank them both for supporting me and pushing me to do my best through all these years, through the good and the bad, and I most certainly wouldn't be the top of my class without them.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Royak, the director of the Academy of Information Technology at Northeast, for not only what she's done for me but for every student of hers who has gone through the academy over the years. She will be retiring this year, and it was her hard work and dedication that kept it running.

HOW I CHANGED: I think that I'm more comfortable with myself. I, like many of my peers, was an awkward freshman, scared of this new high school experience, and hadn't quite found myself yet. I'm still finding myself today, but I'm much farther along that journey. I'm excited to continue that and develop myself further in college.

THREE WORDS: You Tell Me. I want others to judge me by my own words and actions. I can think or say anything about myself, but that doesn't reflect how others view me, which speaks volumes more than anything I could tell you myself.

BEST THING I LEARNED: This Jordan Belfort quote really sticks with me: "The only thing standing between you and your goal is the story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it." High school taught me that taking initiative is the only way to achieve your goals, and not to blame others for your own shortcomings.

Jesse Woodward, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.78

PARENTS: Wade and Anji Woodward

COLLEGE: University of South Florida St. Petersburg

INFLUENCED BY: Mr. Jack Tovey, an art technology specialist, who offered feedback on my work and answered numerous questions regarding my future field of study, Graphic Design.

SHOUT-OUT: To my Advanced Placement Economics teacher Mr. Wenof. He was quite passionate when teaching economics and assured that each student understood the concept at hand before commencing to the next.

HOW I CHANGED: As a senior I must say I've become much more adept. Through our school's Academy of Information Technology, I have learned numerous techniques and gained multiple software certifications.

THREE WORDS: Creative, productive, collected.

BEST THING I LEARNED: How important networking is. Entering the competitive job market out of high school, and eventually college, is tough without a head start.

Osceola High

Connor Ryan Krajnik, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.82

PARENTS: Robert and Elizabeth Krajnik

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My flight instructor, Ms. Misa Taniguchi Franklin, and my best friend and fellow pilot, Rocky Driggers. They've been mentors in both aviation and life in general.

SHOUT-OUT: To my physics teacher, Ms. Ferguson. It's been a great two years in her class, and she's been an immense source of guidance for my friends and I.

HOW I CHANGED: Realizing my dream to fly. In addition to the high school experience, becoming a pilot taught many lessons and led me to amazing people. Aviation helped me grow into the student and person I am today.

THREE WORDS: Intuitive, reserved, dedicated.

BEST THING I LEARNED: The value of being well-rounded, the confidence to be an individual, and that anything can be attained with perseverance and commitment.

Justice A. Galaris, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.80

PARENTS: Stella and Sean Galaris

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mom, who has taught me to give my all in everything I do and to never give up even under the worst of circumstances.

SHOUT-OUT: To Coach Mac for being not only an awesome teacher, but for supporting me at my track meets and making me laugh almost every day in the hallways.

HOW I CHANGED: I got way better looking.

THREE WORDS: Charismatic, hardworking, creative.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That everybody has something to offer. You can learn in a classroom, but you can also learn from your friends and the people around you.

Palm Harbor University High

Richard Callum, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.88

PARENTS: Richard and Socorro Callum

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My sister. She showed me that in life you will mess up, but it'll work out in the end.

SHOUT-OUT: To Senora Alfaro. Her positivity is contagious. She truly loves her job.

HOW I CHANGED: I've learned to relax and not stress about things that you can't control. That's just life.

THREE WORDS: Hard-working, structured, determined.

BEST THING I LEARNED: The importance of punctuality.

Peter DiNapoli, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.84

PARENTS: Karen and Peter DiNapoli

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: To all of my teachers. They all assisted and educated me in their own unique way and have prepared me for my future goals.

HOW I CHANGED: My mentality has changed to where I fully understand how lucky and blessed I am to live the life that I live with all the great people around me.

THREE WORDS: Gym, tan, laundry.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Go God, go Gators.

International Baccalaureate Program at Palm Harbor University High

Amit Sagar, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.9028

PARENTS: Sheila and Vidya Sagar

COLLEGE: University of California, Berkeley

INFLUENCED BY: My brother Karan. He encourages me to pursue my interests and sets an example of achievement for me.

SHOUT-OUT: To my math teacher, Mr. Macfarlane, for always supporting me. He goes out of his way to help me achieve my goals and has taught me both math and life skills.

HOW I CHANGED: I worry less about other people's opinions.

THREE WORDS: Optimistic, quick-thinking, determined.

BEST THING I LEARNED: It's important to find the courage to follow your own path. Don't try to live someone else's life.

Taha Ibrahim Huda, 17

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.9012

PARENTS: Shafe Huda and Shama Huda

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My brother Hammad Huda, who always pushed me through failures and to follow the goal to use everything I have to be the best I can be.

SHOUT-OUT: To Robert Dull, my chemistry teacher for the past three years. Although the end product can sometimes seem unachievable, you were the catalyst that made many of us achieve success in one of the most difficult subjects.

HOW I CHANGED: I've been more focused on my goals, even in the most difficult circumstances, and am less willing than ever to give up.

THREE WORDS: Steadfast, competitive, compassionate.

BEST THING I LEARNED: As Bruce Lee once said, "Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one."

Pinellas Park High

Zoey Elizabeth Ledford, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.85

PARENTS: Michael Ledford and Barri Rowland

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, because they have pushed me and taught me that through hard work you can achieve anything you want in life.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Thomas from Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School. She prepared me for the transition into high school and is a huge reason I am the student I am today.

HOW I CHANGED: I have learned to have the confidence to state my opinions regardless of what others may think.

THREE WORDS: Dedicated, loyal, outgoing.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To cherish every single moment you have because it will go by faster than you could ever imagine.

Nicole Gauvey, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.81

PARENTS: Helen Gauvey and Richard Gauvey

COLLEGE: University of South Florida St. Petersburg

INFLUENCED BY: My mom, not only because she is my mom, but because she is my No. 1 supporter in anything I do (school and sports) and always pushes me to do the best I can no matter what. She has such a huge heart and is always putting others before herself, and I can only hope to become half of the woman that she is.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Richard Cross. He has always supported me, guided me down the right path and been there when I needed school and future-related advice.

HOW I CHANGED: I have always considered myself mature for my age, but over these past four years I have really grown into a young adult and realized what's truly important in life. I am more responsible and organized, and I can actually take care of myself — which is a good thing since I'm headed to college.

THREE WORDS: Organized, control freak, hard-working.

BEST THING I LEARNED: No matter the circumstances, no one besides you can control your own happiness. And to live every second of every day with true joy, because anything can happen in the blink of an eye.

Seminole High

Kaitlyn Clausen, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.85

PARENTS: Katrina and Rick Clausen

COLLEGE: St. Petersburg College

INFLUENCED BY: Ronnie Radke, who taught me that anybody can overcome the odds.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Browett for giving me a place to be away from the chaos of senior year.

HOW I CHANGED: Since freshman year I have become a person that my parents can be proud of. I became my own unique self with an evolved style that I can call my own.

THREE WORDS: Unique, creative, patient.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That you have to forge your own path. Even if it means going down scary or different paths, just keep swimming.

Spencer Whitten, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.80

PARENTS: Jana and Travis Whitten

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Kim Pearson, who has taught me that if you truly want to succeed at something you not only have to strive to reach the goal but also not to give up until you have reached 110 percent.

SHOUT-OUT: To my teachers Mrs. Vaughn, Mrs. Schnake and Mrs. Gavin for all of their hard work and dedication in helping me to excel and prepare as I have grown into a responsible and career-oriented, college-ready student.

HOW I CHANGED: I have become more involved at school and in the community. This has provided me with leadership skills that I will continue to use throughout my educational and professional career, and has led to lifelong friendships.

THREE WORDS: Volunteer-oriented, determined, leader.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Success is earned through hard work and self-motivation.

St. Petersburg High

Cole Thomas Powell, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.82

PARENTS: Bryan and Janette Powell

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents. They have not only supported me in all of my decisions, but have also taught me valuable life lessons. They are the reason I am who I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Ronnenkamp, Mr. Benton, Mr. Tarrou and Coach Phelps. Thank you for pushing me to reach my full potential as a student and player, yet still being understanding of everything else going on in my life.

HOW I CHANGED: I am more cognizant of how the decisions I make today will affect my future, and I am less self-centered than I was when I entered high school.

BEST THING I LEARNED: It's important to be yourself in everything that you do. Even when times get tough, stay true to your beliefs because you'll find the people who like you for yourself.

Emily Kent, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.75

PARENTS: Lisa Kent and Bill Kent

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents and my sister, who set an example for what it means to be hard-working despite the obstacles one faces.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Cruz, Mr. Tarrou, Mr. Bennett and especially Mr. Benton, who inspired me to pursue my passion to teach.

HOW I CHANGED: I have grown confident in my skills as a leader. I have learned the importance of humility and selflessness.

THREE WORDS: Altruistic, driven, content.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Hard work and kindness pay off. All of the challenges that one faces when they abide by these things are worth it when one looks at the people they get to celebrate with.

International Baccalaureate Program at St. Petersburg High

Tarek Ziad, 17

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.89

PARENTS: Fatima Maloui and Ahmed Ziad

COLLEGE: Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

INFLUENCED BY: My mentor, David Ambush. Having an adult who truly felt like a friend (as opposed to just another adult I had to talk to) since such a young age has given me different perspectives and helped me grow as a person.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Broughton and Mr. Benton for always being there for me. Despite never having them as teachers, they have always been there to help and provide whatever they can.

HOW I CHANGED: While I'm definitely still a handful now, I think I've mellowed out over the years. I'm certainly better than how loud and over the top I was as a freshman.

THREE WORDS: Dedicated, mature, humorous.

BEST THING I LEARNED: So long as you have faith, everything happens for a reason. Through my various experiences, I've noticed that every outcome in your life, whether positive or negative, is leading up to a larger result you'll be happy with. But if you begin second-guessing and ruminating on some of the negative events instead of realizing that they're necessary in the grand scheme of things and chugging on, you most likely won't make it to the prize.

Kayla Marie Zavac, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.87

PARENTS: Joanne and Dave Zavac

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My synchronized swimming coach, Diana Wolff, who has been an influential figure for me since fourth grade. She has taught me that any challenge can be overcome with the right frame of mind, and that it is always possible to make time for what you love.

SHOUT-OUT: To all of my teachers, but especially my 11th-grade English teacher Mrs. Vann. She helped me to realize that awareness and acceptance of what you don't know is just as important as what you do know. There will always be things you don't know, so there will always be a reason to learn and explore.

HOW I CHANGED: I have a broadened perspective of myself and the world.

THREE WORDS: Curious, empathetic, enthusiastic.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That you will rarely be bored or stressed if you can find something new or interesting in everything you do. And to remember to look at small pieces of life — successes and failures — as part of a bigger picture. They do not define you.

Tarpon Springs High

Sierra Klein, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.88

PARENTS: Robyn and Richard Klein

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. She always had my back no matter what and taught me to always be compassionate.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Wagner, my social studies teacher freshman and senior years. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and for caring about all your students so deeply and sincerely.

HOW I CHANGED: I've become a stronger, more open to new ideas, and a little more daring.

THREE WORDS: Inquisitive, benevolent, passionate.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."— Anne Frank

Katherine (Katie) Milbrandt, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.87

PARENTS: Kara Milbrandt and John Milbrandt

COLLEGE: Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

INFLUENCED BY: Viktor Savitski, my head gymnastics coach for nearly 10 years and a second dad to me since I met him. He always encouraged me to do my best and taught me that anything worth having takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Wagner for going above and beyond what is required from a teacher and being personally invested in my success. I'd also like to thank Mr. Priddy for inspiring my interest in statistics and physics.

HOW I CHANGED: Freshman year I was very quiet and shy. And, although I still can be, I feel I have grown into my self and become more confident. I've also become a better student, learning that just doing the minimum won't work if you're striving for perfection.

THREE WORDS: Dedicated, athletic, adventurous.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That you get out what you put in. Hard work truly does pay off and only you are responsible for your own success.

St. Petersburg Collegiate High

Devin Blane Lanier, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.97

PARENTS: Rodney Lanier and Danielle Lanier

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Both of my parents have influenced me dramatically. My dad has shown me what hard work and an admirable work ethic can get you, and my mom has taught me how to be a respectable, virtuous person.

SHOUT-OUT: To my eighth-grade math teacher Mr. Dohnal. He was the first teacher to show me that learning can be really enjoyable if you have the right attitude about it.

HOW I CHANGED: I am much more focused now, and I have a clear idea of what I want to do with my life.

THREE WORDS: Easy-going, dependable, kind.

BEST THING I LEARNED: The importance of working with and understanding others. High school was the first place for me where collaboration was often the key to success, and I think that this will definitely be true in the future as well.

Sem Bako, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.91

PARENTS: Petrit Bako and Liljana Bako

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: I would have to say that a person who influenced me is Tempo Storm owner and famous streamer Andrey Yanyuk, also known as Reynad. He taught me that you can make a profit doing what you love, and to never quit on your dreams.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Robert Dohnal, who started my belief in positive thinking to solve issues. He taught two subjects — math and how to believe in yourself. Without him, I would not be where I am right now.

HOW I CHANGED: I definitely feel more confident and happy since my freshman year. My freshman year I was a salty little kid. But as time went on, I had opportunities to find myself while being surrounded by amazing people. I can see myself now as a much better person than I was four years ago.

THREE WORDS: An extraordinary Albanion

BEST THING I LEARNED: How to have a voice. I tended to be very quiet at the start because I wasn't where I wanted to be. I automatically assumed everyone was against me despite never speaking to another person other than a small group of friends. Once I actually talked to people, I felt happy knowing what people look like and who they are are two different things.

Clearwater Central Catholic High

Alexa Leah Ignacio, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.54

PARENTS: Silvino Ignacio, Jr. and Dolores Ignacio

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: Amanda Helfand, my best friend from grade school. Though we went to separate high schools, we continued to communicate by sharing our ups and downs, and she was always there when I wanted to get something off my chest.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Dan Lauby, the advisor to our school newspaper The Central Voice. He supported me and my fellow editors as we designed the newspaper and made me editor-in-chief my senior year, something I was looking forward to since sophomore year.

HOW I CHANGED: Other than becoming more sleep-deprived, I've become more social and able to talk more openly with and around people.

THREE WORDS: Creative, determined, reserved

BEST THING I LEARNED: Everyone has a voice and no matter what it sounds like, whether it's heard by ear or written on paper, it deserves to be heard. Please make it heard, and scream if you want.

Jared Rossi, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.50

PARENTS: Peter Rossi and Patricia Rossi

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My father, because he is a great teacher and a great role model. He is a man of great faith and has devoted his life to serving others..

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Andy Shannon, because he always challenged me to be the best person I can be both academically and spiritually.

HOW I CHANGED: I have become much more outgoing and more confident in my actions and decisions.

THREE WORDS: Simple, determined, humorous.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That you must try to enjoy the part of life you are currently in because soon you will no longer be in that phase of life and will only be able to reflect on it rather than live it.

International Baccalaureate Program at Clearwater Central Catholic High

Analise Victoria Walker, 18

Valedictorian

GPA: 4.63

PARENTS: John and Yolanda Walker

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who has taught me to be a competitor in everything I do and has always been supportive, helping me achieve any goal I set for myself.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Shannon for bringing an enthusiasm for the faith into my school and into my life again.

HOW I CHANGED: I have grown more confident. Now I definitely will not hesitate to share my opinions/perspectives with anyone and everyone.

THREE WORDS: Honest, dedicated, driven.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To always challenge myself and not to be discouraged by failure, but to be motivated by it.

William Robert Moorhead, 18

Salutatorian

GPA: 4.62

PARENTS: Robert and Susan Moorhead

COLLEGE: United States Military Academy at West Point, West Point, N.Y.

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, who instilled in me a desire for hard work and success. Without their motivation I would not be where I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Sabatos, who made math "child's play" and who has prepared us all for college extremely well.

HOW I CHANGED: I gained the desire to learn and the ability to think for myself.

THREE WORDS: Confident, sarcastic, procrastinator.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "You who choose to lead must follow." — Ripple by the Grateful Dead

EDITOR'S NOTE: Clearwater Central Catholic's top students are included today because their selection process occurred after the deadline for last week's private school list.

Times staff writer Dolly Brosan contributed to this year's coverage of valedictorians and salutatorians in Pinellas County.

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