More top grads: Meet the 2017 valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private schools

Meet this year's valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas County private schools. [Times files]
Meet this year's valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas County private schools. [Times files]
Published May 19, 2017

As the top graduates from Pinellas County's private high schools finished their classes and prepared for exams this spring, we asked them to reflect on the last four years — to think about what they learned, how high school changed them and the people who helped them along the way. To get the discussion going, we prompted them to consider the following:

(Click here to see vals and sals from Pinellas public high schools.)

MAJORING IN: Engineering? English? Anthropology?

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 your 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.

Admiral Farragut Academy

Katherine Jane Barnett, 18


GPA: 4.35

PARENTS: Molly and Joseph Barnett

COLLEGE: Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.

MAJOR: Environmental engineering

INFLUENCED BY: My grandmother, because she always believed in me. Her positive perspective inspires me to be more like her and to want to help others.

SHOUT-OUT: To my engineering teacher, Mr. Monroe, for all he has taught me and for inspiring me to pursue a career in engineering.

HOW I CHANGED: Since freshman year I have developed a clear vision of what I want to do and what I want to achieve in my life.

THREE WORDS: Strong-willed, tenacious, ambitious

BEST THING I LEARNED: Anything can happen in life, but to be successful one must be prepared.

Zachary John Fine, 18


GPA: 4.28

PARENTS: Anita and Robert Fine, Camille Fine and Brett Schlifstein

COLLEGE: Duke University, Durham, N.C .

MAJOR: Quantitative economics

INFLUENCED BY: My parents. They push me to do the best I can and support me whenever I struggle. They also taught me to be a good person along the way and never doubt myself.

SHOUT-OUT: To my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch. She laid the groundwork for my continued love of knowledge, which helped tremendously with academics in high school. I learned how to be a good student in her class and cannot thank her enough for this.

HOW I CHANGED: I think the biggest change has been in my confidence level. Gaining experience in leadership positions and learning more about a variety of subjects has given me confidence in everything I do.

THREE WORDS: Driven, focused, leader

BEST THING I LEARNED: Hard work pays off. I saw this every day in everything I did and in my classmates as well. Whether it be a lesson I did not understand in the classroom or a talent level that I could not seem to reach in a sport, simply putting in the time to get better was worth it.

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Calvary Christian

Rachel Le Xuan Cook, 17


GPA: 4.53

PARENTS: Lisa and Paul Cook

COLLEGE: Florida State University, Tallahassee

MAJOR: Biochemistry

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, who have always supported me and been great role models.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Johnson for always pushing me to do my best and sparking an interest in the field of psychology.

HOW I CHANGED: I feel that I have become a more well-rounded individual since my freshman year.

THREE WORDS: Optimistic, cheerful, motivated

BEST THING I LEARNED: "Life is about the journey, not the destination."

Brionna Slaughter, 18


GPA: 4.48

PARENTS: Christine and Stephen Slaughter

COLLEGE: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Ind.

MAJOR: Computer science/software engineering

INFLUENCED BY: My mother and father, who have encouraged me to become independent and to achieve all that I could.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Valdes for taking the time to be my mentor, offering support and ultimately helping me grow in my faith.

HOW I CHANGED: Over the years I have developed a greater understanding of other people, learned to work in the face of adversity and developed my leadership skills due to experience with both teamwork and independence.

THREE WORDS: Independent, creative, loyal

BEST THING I LEARNED: Sometimes just taking the time to actually look around, listen to others and care for them is the most helpful thing one can do.

Canterbury School of Florida

Jordan Elizabeth Cox, 18


GPA: 4.82

PARENTS: Anne Cox-Hicks, Mike Hicks, Michelle Cox and Troy Cox

COLLEGE: Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.

MAJOR: Neuroscience/violin performance

INFLUENCED BY: My first violin teacher, Ruth Klukoff. Besides violin technique, her lessons would teach me life skills and how to be a caring person.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Johnson for his support of my violin endeavors. As my economics and ethics teacher he had no obligation to attend any of my concerts, yet I could find his face in the audience at almost every one.

HOW I CHANGED: I've learned not to overcommit myself. Instead of participating in every club I could, now I know to follow and become active in my passions.

THREE WORDS: Energetic, determined, witty

BEST THING I LEARNED: "If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow" — Beyoncé Knowles

Paige Anne Liebel, 18


GPA: 4.69

PARENTS: Laura and Hartmut Liebel

COLLEGE: University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.

MAJOR: Electrical engineering/German

INFLUENCED BY: Scott Bower and Renee Horton, my youth soccer coaches. I am beyond grateful to them for inspiring me to be my utmost best in all matters of life. Thank you for imparting to me the love of the game.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Fiola, my Mandarin teacher and role model. I hope to become as strong, brilliant and fun-loving as you are.

HOW I CHANGED: I have been deeply humbled by my travels abroad. I now embrace the adventure of learning what the world has to teach me.

THREE WORDS: Athletic, focused, curious

BEST THING I LEARNED: "I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary." — Elon Musk

Clearwater Academy International

Diego McQuillen Lago, 18


GPA: 4.3

PARENTS: Elly and Tony Lago

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Engineering

INFLUENCED BY: Bill Nye the Science Guy instilled my interest in science from an early age.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ardiana Radani for helping me really understand math.

HOW I CHANGED: I have a greater respect for my teachers now that I can look back at how much they guided me.

THREE WORDS: Curious, resourceful, thoughtful

BEST THING I LEARNED: Procrastination is the eighth deadly sin.

Megan Russell, 17


GPA: 4.3

PARENTS: Wendy and Samuel Russell

COLLEGE: Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

MAJOR: Zoology

INFLUENCED BY: L. Ron Hubbard, who showed me how to learn anything and gave me the ability to understand and use what I learned. If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't have loved science and gotten into Zoology.

SHOUT-OUT: To Fred Houck. With his guidance I became more responsible and confident. He treated me like an adult before I even graduated.

HOW I CHANGED: I have become much more self-confident and responsible. I have become stronger and tougher as well.

THREE WORDS: Creative, responsible, productive

BEST THING I LEARNED: I found out on my own that I am in charge of my life. People can guide you and help you, but you are the one living with the decisions and are responsible for yourself; no one else is. Because of this I want to become the best of the best and succeed by keeping my standards and integrity at a very high level, no matter what.

Clearwater Central Catholic

Tyler McDonald, 18


GPA: 4.59

PARENTS: Linda and Matt McDonald

COLLEGE: Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.

MAJOR: Economics

INFLUENCED BY: Coach Scargle, because he helped me love the game of football from an early age. His belief in me on the football field directly translated to my strong passion for what I strive for and my growth as a person.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Shannon, because he is the kindest person I know. He has always been so empathetic and compassionate with me, and has been a role model who taught me to be passionate about my beliefs and to understand and sympathize with other people's situations.

HOW I CHANGED: During my freshman year I was constantly talking and having fun but never socially aware of my surroundings. As a senior I now know the times to have conversation, be more reserved or to just listen.

THREE WORDS: Competitive, confident, outgoing

BEST THING I LEARNED: How to balance my schedule between academics, sports, social life and sleep. Being able to accomplish everything I need to do within a certain time frame by planning, multitasking and making priorities will help me immensely moving forward.

Jackson Moore, 18


GPA: 4.57

PARENTS: Kerry and Jack Moore

COLLEGE: University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.

MAJOR: Accounting

INFLUENCED BY: My grandma Josie. She was a great role model in the way she carried herself and treated others.

SHOUT-OUT: To my religion teacher, Mr. Shannon, because he helped me grow stronger in my faith and in the way I interact with others.

HOW I CHANGED: I have matured and come to realize what matters most is my relationships and experiences with others.

THREE WORDS: Sarcastic, sympathetic, passionate

BEST THING I LEARNED: The concept of how every single person has his or her own personal struggles. It has taught me to be as kind as possible, because you never know what the person standing next to you is going through.

International Baccalaureate Program at Clearwater Central Catholic

Alexandra Maria Ivanov, 18


GPA: 4.63

PARENTS: Rocio and Nicholas Ivanov

COLLEGE: Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

MAJOR: Biology

INFLUENCED BY: My parents and my sister, who constantly inspire me. They never once stopped believing in me.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Ford for igniting my love of science, and Mr. Elliot for inspiring a passion for history.

HOW I CHANGED: I went into my freshman year as a timid young girl not knowing anyone at the school. Today, I know that I can overcome any challenge.

THREE WORDS: Tenacious, creative, empathetic

BEST THING I LEARNED: Motivation is a powerful force in overcoming challenges.

Flannery Canfield, 18


GPA: 4.62

PARENTS: Brooke and Michael Canfield

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Economics

INFLUENCED BY: Riley Richards, my best friend. She always encourages me to be my best self.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Sabatos for raising our expectations of ourselves and for her dry humor.

HOW I CHANGED: I am more comfortable being my most authentic self.

THREE WORDS: Quirky, unconventional, happy

BEST THING I LEARNED: A good sense of humor can get you through most anything.

Noah Ignacio


GPA: 4.62

PARENTS: Gemma and Ronnie Ignacio

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Medicine

INFLUENCED BY: My parents. From an early age, they have established a solid foundation of love, guidance, and solidarity that has carried me throughout my life. Every day they inspire me to do the best I can. I would not be the person I am today without the love, guidance and care from my parents.

SHOUT-OUT: To Coach Wasilenko, varsity basketball coach and English teacher, for all the trust and faith he put in me, and for guiding me to become the best player and person I could be. I am lucky to have a coach who I can talk to about anything.

HOW I CHANGED: Throughout my four years of high school, I have consistently maintained the value of hard work, both academically and athletically, while hanging out with good friends.

THREE WORDS: Inquisitive, laid-back, interesting

BEST THING I LEARNED: To value friendship and to know that life is not permanent. Tyler Gray, a teammate and a great friend, passed away from leukemia. He inspires me daily to value the beauty of life. I try my best to embody the true kindness that Tyler showed every day.

Indian Rocks Christian

Kristi Byun, 18


GPA: 4.46

PARENTS: Sung and Assami Byun

COLLEGE: Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

MAJOR: Economics

INFLUENCED BY: My older brother, Kevin, who has always been a positive influence on my life. Ever since we were little he has inspired me to try new things and be persistent when it comes to reaching my goals.

SHOUT-OUT: To my 10th-grade Bible teacher and high school track coach, Mark Buchanan. Since freshman year he has pushed me to reach my full potential, given me snacks and been a man of faith that I could look up to.

HOW I CHANGED: I've become more understanding and thoughtful through participating in mission trips and community outreaches.

THREE WORDS: Ambitious, sarcastic, outgoing

BEST THING I LEARNED: You don't always have to know the end-all of a situation. It's okay not to know sometimes. What's more important is how you deal with and learn from problems you face.

Joshua Guzman, 18


GPA: 4.46

PARENTS: Christine and Manuel Guzman

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Undecided

INFLUENCED BY: Steven Frank Turco, who has steered me to success.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Hayward for providing the Otis Spunkmeyer muffins that got me through school every day.

HOW I CHANGED: I'm much more focused on set things I want to do instead of going through the motions waiting for things to happen.

THREE WORDS: Frank, competitive, reflective

BEST THING I LEARNED: Hard work alone can take you far.

Shannon Eileen Jones, 18


GPA: 4.46

PARENTS: Maureen and John Jones

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: International studies

INFLUENCED BY: My father's belief in my potential and his support in all areas of my life. I would never be where I am today without him guiding me and giving me advice that I will never forget and will continue to apply in everyday life.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Rich Hayward, my AP Human Geography teacher for making me an independent student who asks for what I want and defends myself if I know I am correct. I will never forget the kindness you showed me at the end of the third quarter in my junior year, and your continuous teachings inside and outside of a classroom setting.

HOW I CHANGED: My experience as a yearbook staff member is what has changed me the most in my walk through high school. Through yearbook I have learned to be outspoken, unafraid of others' criticisms and driven to complete tasks to the best of my abilities. So, thank you to my advisors and fellow yerds.

THREE WORDS: Independent, driven, ambitious

BEST THING I LEARNED: Mr. Ben Futoran, my AP Physics 1 teacher invested in my life inside and outside of the classroom by teaching me to change my goals from ones of self-advancement to those of improvement for all people. He taught me how to move past my own mind, and has guided me in my faith in order to make me realize that, at the end of the day, Christ is what matters most.

Lukas Miranda, 18


GPA: 4.43

PARENTS: Mary and Vern Miranda

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Undecided

INFLUENCED BY: Shayle "SpaghettiSuprme" Pearson. He has been my best friend since third grade and has taught me many life lessons through his sage advice.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Hayward for providing muffins to keep me well-nourished throughout the day.

HOW I CHANGED: I got taller, more confident in myself and more knowledgeable about the world. I also finally got a decent haircut.

THREE WORDS: Procrastinator, xD, eccentric

BEST THING I LEARNED: Sometimes things don't work out the way you want them to, and it is okay when they don't.

Keswick Christian

Jacob William Smith, 19


GPA: 4.54

PARENTS: Susan and Eric Smith

COLLEGE: Southeastern University, Lakeland

MAJOR: Mathematics/actuarial science

INFLUENCED BY: Pastor Drew Grubbs, who challenged me to grow in my walk with the Lord and become the person I am today.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Nicole Costa for being a great math teacher. She took the extra time to work with me and gave me many words of encouragement.

HOW I CHANGED: I have learned how to balance my time more efficiently due to taking AP and advanced courses throughout high school.

THREE WORDS: Social, responsible, athletic

BEST THING I LEARNED: The value of good friends. I am so thankful for my close friends that I met through Keswick Christian School.

Nicole G. Bender, 18


GPA: 4.53

PARENTS: Grace and George Bender

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Preprofessional biology

INFLUENCED BY: Michael Hayden, pastor of the youth group I attended in middle and early high school. He taught me real world applications of the Bible and how to truly live for Christ. He helped me through some rough times and was an incredible mentor. For that I will always be grateful.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Loughhead, who has taught me four of my 14 years at Keswick. She was my first-grade and fourth-grade teacher, then became my 11th and 12th grade AP teacher. She is a wonderful and godly woman who has always had my back and who I will continually look up to.

HOW I CHANGED: I have evolved into a more sociable and outgoing person. Through this I have become a more outspoken individual who is confident enough to stand up for her beliefs.

THREE WORDS: Hard-working, caring, logical

BEST THING I LEARNED: To be able to stand up for what you believe in. You can't be passive about what you care about if you want anything to be done about it. "You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough. You must take action."

Lakeside Christian

Catherine Delaney Sills, 17


GPA: 4.15

PARENT: Stephanie Sills

COLLEGE: Baylor University, Waco, Texas

MAJOR: Biology

INFLUENCED BY: My mom, through her helpfulness and her ability to turn any bad situation into a positive one.

SHOUT-OUT: To Courtney Rozeveld. She has been a huge encouragement and support throughout my senior year.

HOW I CHANGED: I have grown in my ability to build relationships with others.

THREE WORDS: Dedicated, loyal, reliable

BEST THING I LEARNED: That my focus should not be on pleasing others, but on pleasing God. "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." — Galatians 1:10

Heather McCall Trofemuk, 18


GPA: 4.01

PARENTS: Debbie and Joe Trofemuk

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

MAJOR: Math education

INFLUENCED BY: My mom, who is always giving me godly advice.

SHOUT-OUT: To Amy Hoag for investing time in my life and helping me grow my love for math.

HOW I CHANGED: I have grown in my relationship with the Lord and my understanding of His Word.

THREE WORDS: Honest, devoted, determined

BEST THING I LEARNED: To be anxious for nothing because I know that God is in control of everything. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." — Philippians 4:6-7

Northside Christian

Natalie Chapman, 18


GPA: 4.72

PARENTS: Beth Ann Scharrer and Joseph Q. Chapman

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Political science

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. With her strength, independence and intelligence she has certainly influenced me greatly. Not only has she given me valuable life lessons, but she has helped establish in me a sense of ambition and a drive to be the best me that I can be.

SHOUT-OUT: To my track and field coach, Jeffrey Goodwin. He taught me how to toughen up and be a leader.

HOW I CHANGED: I've learned to think for myself and stand my ground, even in the face of great opposition.

THREE WORDS: Independent, efficient, funky

BEST THING I LEARNED: That achievements come through nothing but hard work. You can't expect things to be handed to you. You must chase them through effort and discipline.

Allison Quintin, 18


GPA: 4.67

PARENTS: Arnold Quintin and Wendy Hinson

COLLEGE: University of Tampa

MAJOR: Athletic training

INFLUENCED BY: My parents. I would like to thank them for always believing in me and pushing me to be the best I could ever be. They saw what I could not see in myself and raised me to be successful in what they saw in me since I was a child. And for that I will be forever thankful.

SHOUT-OUT: To the dean of students at my school, Mr. Lockhart. The life of a student in high school is not always a piece of cake. But whenever I was struggling with personal issues or school dilemmas, especially during applying for colleges, he always was there to help with open arms.

HOW I CHANGED: I was introduced to what it was like to live a life where teachers and students care for you above their own needs. I was loved, and whenever I needed a helping hand there wasn't just one but many. This allowed me to grow into a mature adult that loves to be there for others and to share the feeling of compassion that so many around me have taught me.

THREE WORDS: Compassionate, motivated, inspirational

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote that has gotten me through the end of senior year: "Don't be sad that it is ending, but happy because it happened."

Oldsmar Christian

Jose Giannys Fonseca Jr., 18


GPA: 3.9

PARENTS: Katiuska Fonseca and Jose Fonseca Sr.

COLLEGE: Hillsborough Community College, Tampa

MAJOR: Bio-med

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who taught me a hard work ethic and has always encouraged me to follow my dreams.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs.Smith for putting on the play this year. She is the reason for the many great memories I will have from my senior year.

THREE WORDS: Fun, hard-working, friendly

BEST THING I LEARNED: No matter what life throws at you, you have to keep your head up and keep moving forward because life is all about progress.

Kalani Melia Joseph, 18


GPA: 3.6

PARENT: Lonnie Veasley Jr.

COLLEGE: Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, N.Y.

MAJOR: Fashion business management

INFLUENCED BY: My dad, because of his reverence for the Lord. He has sacrificed a lot for me.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Smith for taking care of me and bringing out the best in me.

HOW I CHANGED: I've become more grateful, loving and kind.

THREE WORDS: Caring, goofy, adventurous

BEST THING I LEARNED: Not to let fear stop you from doing things. Even if you are scared, the Lord will bring you through.

St. Petersburg Catholic

Noah Dante DeBickero, 18


GPA: 4.53

PARENTS: Karen and Dan DeBickero

COLLEGE: University of Miami, Coral Gables

MAJOR: Biology

INFLUENCED BY: My brother, Nic, who is the best role model I can have. In and out of school he has helped me be the best I could be.

SHOUT-OUT: To my biology and chemistry teacher, Mrs. Schuyler, as she has helped me fall in love with these subjects and develop my future studies.

HOW I CHANGED: Over the past four years I've discovered the most about myself, including my desires in life and my lifelong passions.

THREE WORDS: Funny, determined, charismatic

BEST THING I LEARNED: "The lust for comfort kills the passion of the soul." — Khalil Gibran

Liam Dougherty Howard, 18


GPA: 4.53

PARENTS: Ann Dougherty and Peter Howard

COLLEGE: Fordham University, New York, N.Y.

MAJOR: Biology or finance

INFLUENCED BY: My mom. She's showed me how to be humble, treat others, and is my best friend.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Wendy Schuyler, who I had for Biology Honors, AP Biology, and AP Chemistry. She expected nothing but the best, which made me work to the best of my abilities and that carried over into my other classes.

HOW I CHANGED: I've grown 7 inches and have gained 55 pounds.

THREE WORDS: Hard-working, thoughtful, motivated

BEST THING I LEARNED: That one must look for the positives in what comes one's way and be grateful for everything one has.

Josh Glen Picadizo Aguilar, 17


GPA: 4.43

PARENTS: Lorelei and Glenn Aguilar

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

MAJOR: Undecided

INFLUENCED BY: My mother, who is a hard worker and never gives up in the things she does.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Johnston for being rad and teaching me how interesting the world of physics is.

HOW I CHANGED: I'm more mature in my views of the world and open to others' viewpoints.

THREE WORDS: Reserved, imaginative, random

BEST THING I LEARNED: "God didn't reinvent the wheel." — Mrs. Wendy Schuyler

Shorecrest Preparatory

Max Ryan Kobernick, 18


GPA: 4.83

PARENT: Debbie Kobernick

COLLEGE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

MAJOR: Political science

INFLUENCED BY: My Grandma Ida. Her determination and perseverance despite her experiences as a Holocaust survivor inspire me every day.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ron Heller for sharing his love of history with me and acting as a mentor and friend throughout high school.

HOW I CHANGED: I've learned a lot and grown as a person thanks to lessons learned from my friends, family and teachers.

THREE WORDS: Happy, kind, motivated

BEST THING I LEARNED: "It is our choices that show who we truly are far more than our abilities"

Zachary Savitsky, 17


GPA: 4.72

PARENTS: Denise and John Erik Savitsky

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

MAJOR: Undecided

INFLUENCED BY: The Savitsky family. I can't imagine I would be anywhere close to the person I am today without their neverending and unrivaled support, encouragement and food. Growing up with nearly all of my extended family members within an hour's drive has given me a foundation of trust and comfort that I couldn't be more thankful for.

SHOUT-OUT: To the two most impactful teachers of my high school career — Mr. Field and Mr. Ellenburg. Aside from the math and English skills, they both instilled in me my freshman year the grit, motivation and leadership required to take control of my studies.

HOW I CHANGED: While my shoes have remained the same size, I have certainly grown into them over the past four years. My confidence and self-esteem have boomed as I've come to discover and define myself.

THREE WORDS: Curious, creative, conscientious

BEST THING I LEARNED: How important it is to answer your own questions. Being curious and inquisitive is beneficial, but you won't get anywhere without the confidence and independence required to be your own teacher.

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