1. Education

Pinellas high school valedictorians and salutatorians of 2014

Deja Blunt, Salutatorian, Clearwater High
Published May 22, 2014

Boca Ciega High

Valedictorian: Leyna Xoi, 17

GPA: 4.74

PARENTS: Phuong Nguyen (mother) and Xuyen Xoi (father)

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My ong ngoai (grandpa). As a selfless individual, my ong ngoai has inspired me to become passionate about helping other people.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Petrikin, for always being willing to help proofread my works and offer his best advice in response to any of my dilemmas.

BEST MEMORY: Participating in service projects, such as spending a day at the VA medical center as a member of Rho Kappa.

MADE IT THROUGH: Studying for AP exams.

PASSION IN LIFE: To become a pediatric ophthalmologist and promote healthy vision in the lives of children and their families.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Time management is the key to success.

Salutatorian: Emily Kay Broida, 17

GPA: 4.72

PARENTS: Ellen Broida and Eric Broida

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Although my family has always guided me, Brooke, a senior that I met my freshman year, has had such a positive influence on me. Her confident personality and great fashion sense not only impacted my life, but also my closet.

SHOUT-OUT: To my calculus teacher, Mr. Lynch. His exceptional teaching has intensified my passion for math and helped me discover my potential.

BEST MEMORY: Pep rallies. It's wonderful to see our whole school come together for a mutual cause.

MADE IT THROUGH: My first AP class. It was challenging and demanding, preparing me for the rigorous courses in college.

PASSION IN LIFE: Although I stopped participating in the sport a few years ago, my passion has always been gymnastics.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Life is what you make it, not what others make it for you. Be yourself and work hard. The future is in your own hands.

Clearwater High

Valedictorian: Alexandra Russell, 17

GPA: 4.73

PARENTS: Brian and Missy Russell

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Mr. Michael Dyck, assistant principal of Skycrest Christian School. He is a man of faith and instills his passion for learning in his students.

SHOUT-OUT: To Dr. Holm and Mrs. Reinhardt. They set the bar high and I feel prepared for college.

BEST MEMORY: Making the varsity volleyball team as a freshman.

PASSION IN LIFE: Learning new things.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote by Stephen Covey — "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

Salutatorian: Deja Blunt, 18

GPA: 4.71

PARENTS: Catrecia Pitts and Derick Blunt

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. She was a hard worker, she encouraged me, and she always backed my decisions 100%.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Lindsay Katz, my 10th grade English 2 Honors teacher because of the teacher-student bond we share. Even after I moved on to the next grade she still helped me with assignments when I was struggling, and motivated me to always try my best.

BEST MEMORY: My senior basketball season because, as a team, we proved a lot of people wrong. The Varsity Lady Tornadoes won a district title under a new coach, and I made First Team All-County.

MADE IT THROUGH: Trying to keep up with my honors and AP classes while recovering from ACL reconstruction.

PASSION IN LIFE: Basketball, which is leading me to become an orthopedic doctor and surgeon due to recent ACL injuries.

BEST THING I LEARNED: When someone pushes you towards something that they think is a weakness, turn it around and make the perceived weakness into a strength.

Countryside High

Valedictorian: Alexandra Love Carroll, 17

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Patrick Carroll and Sheila Love

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My grandfather, who taught me the real meaning of kindness and compassion.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Amanda Evans, because since seventh grade she has tutored me in math and believed that I had great potential, even when I did not. She gave me confidence not only in math but also in every aspect of my life.

BEST MEMORY: Traveling all over the state and nation the last four years of high school, competing in show-jumping competitions with my two horses, Chinchino and Kona, and having the time of my life. Also, meeting the best friends I could ever want, especially the one I met at junior prom.

MADE IT THROUGH: Pulling all-nighters to finish assignments or studying for tests, night after night.

PASSION IN LIFE: My horses. Every extra moment I have I spend with them.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote by Jessie Owens — "We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort."

Salutatorian: Michael Clennan, 17

GPA: 4.78

PARENTS: Charlie and Teri Clennan

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mom. She has always helped me and volunteered at my school, showing me that giving back makes a difference.

SHOUT-OUT: To coach Givens. She taught me to never give up, even when the work gets hard.

BEST MEMORY: Finishing the yearbook this spring.

MADE IT THROUGH: Deciding which college to attend.


BEST THING I LEARNED: Life is easier when you focus on the positives and what you enjoy.

Dixie Hollins High

Valedictorian: Daniel LaVine, 18

GPA: 4.57

PARENTS: Jennifer and Steven Hanson

COLLEGE: University of Central Florida, Orlando

INFLUENCED BY: Col. Mark Valentine, the senior Army instructor at Dixie Hollins. He pushed me to strive for the best and helped me with many difficulties that came up.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Tim Tucker, my math teacher all three years at Meadowlawn Middle School. He saw my academic ability and took time out of his day to teach me math two levels higher than middle school.

BEST MEMORY: When I went with my girlfriend to homecoming. It was my first homecoming and we both made court.

MADE IT THROUGH: Toward the end of the semester, as all of my college classes are coming to an end and all the exams are coming. My high school teachers are also assigning many papers and preparing us for the AP test.

PASSION IN LIFE: I have been wanting to join the military since eighth grade, and now I am able to live my dream and join as an officer after four years of college.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."

Salutatorian: Nancy Thi Nguyen, 17

GPA: 4.45

PARENTS: Khang and Thanhloan Nguyen

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My parents, who raised me to always work hard for the life I want and to appreciate the importance of family.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Hall-Yee, Mr. Hinzman, Mrs. Levondosky and Mr. Waterkeyn. Thank you for many laughs, advice, and for seeing past my shy exterior to help me recognize my potential.

BEST MEMORY: Performing in the Pinellas All-County Choir during my junior and senior year at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

MADE IT THROUGH: Trying to adjust to a public high school without anybody by my side after going to a Catholic private school from kindergarten to eighth grade. I was very shy and it was hard for me to make friends in an environment I was unfamiliar with.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "You attract people by the qualities you display. You keep them by the qualities you possess."

Dunedin High

Valedictorian: David Dalton Settlemire, 18

GPA: 4.73

PARENTS: Dave and Temple Settlemire

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My great-grandfather, Bill Andrews. His demeanor, poise and genuine caring nature taught me how to treat others and that there is always a little magic in everything.

SHOUT-OUT: Cmdr. Rick Schock, my NJROTC instructor. His example as a leader and a mentor have proved extremely valuable in my quest to become a naval officer.

BEST MEMORY: Winning homecoming king as the captain of the varsity football team. Between the game and the halftime show, it was truly a night to remember.

MADE IT THROUGH: All four years were tough, balancing sports, clubs, academics and extracurricular activities.

PASSION IN LIFE: To lead others and to serve as an officer in the Navy. It's what I've worked towards for years, and to see it realized is a fantastic feeling.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Some people think that time is an enemy that works against us. But I rather believe that time is a companion that travels with us and opens our eyes to the here and now, because now will never come again.

Salutatorian: Lindsey Aline Settlemire, 18

GPA: 4.70

PARENTS: Dave and Temple Settlemire

COLLEGE: Florida Southern College, Lakeland

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. Throughout my life she has always been there to guide me and teach me right from wrong. I would not be as strong a student or person without her by my side.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Meredith Cappel-Kane, my English teacher in ninth grade and my speech teacher in senior year. She has always been a positive person who made me feel special and reminded me to live up to my potential, even when I was not in her class.

BEST MEMORY: Senior Night for cheerleading. I was so honored and proud to walk across the field with my parents after four years of hard work and dedication to the team.

MADE IT THROUGH: Selecting which college to go to between my top two. It was tough but I know I made the right decision.

PASSION IN LIFE: Reading. I love sitting down with a good book and sweeping through an hour or two. I love interpreting the underlying meanings and symbols; it makes me feel like an ace detective.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote by speaker and author Eric Thomas — "When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you'll be successful."

East Lake High

Valedictorian: Drake Corbin Breeding, 17

GPA: 4.89

PARENTS: David and Maribel Breeding

COLLEGE: Duke University, Durham, N.C.

INFLUENCED BY: My grandfather, Jose Lopez, who came to America from Cuba in search of a better life for his family. He has taught me the importance of perseverance and to take advantage of every opportunity that I can.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Mobley, for pushing me to improve my writing ability in my AP language class and helping with my colleges essays.

BEST MEMORY: Writing and editing for the school newspaper, the Talon.

MADE IT THROUGH: Losing 25 pounds while I was sick with pneumonia my senior year.

PASSION IN LIFE: Mental and physical self-improvement.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote from Ferris Bueller's Day Off — "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Salutatorian: Alex Carbonelli, 18

GPA: 4.77

PARENTS: Jill Carbonelli and Kevin Carbonelli

COLLEGE: Duke University, Durham, N.C.

INFLUENCED BY: My brother. He has an incredible work ethic that I have striven to match, especially as I have come closer to the real world.

SHOUT-OUT: To my calculus teacher, John Loftus, for constantly pushing me to reach my full potential. Without his persistence, senioritis would most likely have been my downfall.

BEST MEMORY: Generations Day of our senior homecoming week. The entire senior class dressed as senior citizens, jamming the hallways with our walkers.

MADE IT THROUGH: Our state final four game this year. Down 2-0 with 10 minutes left and a man down, we miraculously tied the game, only to lose in penalty kicks. That was a heartbreaker.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That the teacher isn't always right. You have to be skeptical, and you have to challenge the status quo sometimes to find the truth.

Academy of Engineering at East Lake High

Valedictorian: Joshua Alexander Berko, 18

GPA: 4.9273

PARENTS: Patricia and Adam Berko

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. She taught me that life does not stop during times of adversity, nor should I. As she always likes to say, "It is just a bump in the road."

SHOUT-OUT: To my composition I and II instructor, professor Mobley. She has not only tirelessly helped me to improve my writing, but also taught me valuable life lessons and how to succeed in my other endeavors.

BEST MEMORY: Going to prom during my junior year and having the best time of my life. I was privileged enough to be able take someone who has become very special and important to me.

MADE IT THROUGH: Building up enough drive, determination and dedication to wake up, crawl out of bed and drive myself to morning swim practices during the cold winter months.

PASSION IN LIFE: To help others and build healthy relationships.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That only you can limit your own abilities.

Salutatorian: Dante Helffrich, 17

GPA: 4.9259

PARENTS: Michael David Helffrich and Maria Cristina Helffrich

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My grandmother. For two months when I was in third grade she would sit next to me and we would read for an hour a day. If it weren't for her I wouldn't have passed the reading portion of the FCAT. I also attribute my love for reading to her.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Kistner for allowing me to use her classroom as my base of operations.

BEST MEMORY: As I was preparing to sit down for a really hard test I had completely forgotten about, someone pulled the fire alarm. The false alarm took up most of the period and the teacher postponed the test. I got a perfect score on the test the next day.

PASSION IN LIFE: Rather than one passion, I have many small hobbies. I enjoy video games, cycling, soccer, driving, fishing, and, like any growing young man, eating and sleeping.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That to be successful you don't necessarily have to work hard; you just have to work smart.

Gibbs High

Valedictorian: Caroline Elizabeth Atkins, 18

GPA: 4.54

PARENTS: Mark and Barbara Atkins

COLLEGE: College of Charleston, Charleston, S.C.

INFLUENCED BY: My teacher Frederick Bradley, who displays his love for science every day. His AP biology class convinced me to pursue my dream of becoming a veterinarian.

SHOUT-OUT: To AP U.S. history teacher Dennis Zuercher for believing in me and inspiring all of his students. He is the best teacher I have ever had.

BEST MEMORY: Attending the Southeastern Theater Conference in Louisville, Ky., to audition for colleges.

MADE IT THROUGH: The decision to pursue medicine instead of acting in college.

PASSION IN LIFE: I have two: theater and animals.

BEST THING I LEARNED: My AP psychology teacher told me to take things one day at a time. That advice — and coffee — got me through so much.

Salutatorian: Clarice Angelica Lee, 18

GPA: 4.50

PARENTS: Melody Lee and Mario Lee

COLLEGE: University of Miami, Coral Gables

INFLUENCED BY: My older sister Denice and my younger brother Thomas. They both exhibit traits that I lack and have a strength about them that I admire and are always there for me no matter what.

SHOUT-OUT: To my music teachers: Mr. Derek Weston, Mr. Andre Dubas, Mrs. Kathleen Bawel and Ms. Joyce Liu. All of my teachers have not only helped me countless times but have taught me a different lesson that has allowed me to grow and to strive to be the best I can be.

BEST MEMORY: The honor of being part of the orchestra during PCCA's finale production of Phantom of the Opera two years ago.

MADE IT THROUGH: Having to balance schoolwork, tests, college applications and auditions, senior recitals and my extracurricular obligations.

PASSION IN LIFE: Music. Through my volunteer work at All Children's Hospital, I have seen the power music has to heal others and I ultimately wish to use this God-given gift to help people in the future.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to see beyond the imperfections."

Lakewood High

Valedictorian: Sebastian DiGeronimo, 18

GPA: 4.60

PARENTS: Melissa and Ron Barnes; Peter and Pam DiGeronimo

COLLEGE: University of South Florida St. Petersburg

INFLUENCED BY: My mom, Melissa Barnes. She has influenced my life greatly by supporting me in everything I do, whether it be scuba diving or getting me from place to place. She has always been there for me.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. James Kostka, because he helped put me on track to become a marine biologist. He introduced me to Scubanauts, where I got certified and started diving.

BEST MEMORY: Going to Envirothon for the second year and winning two first-place medals for the categories forestry and current issue.

MADE IT THROUGH: My first AP online class.

PASSION IN LIFE: Playing guitar, diving and working hard in everything I do.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To never give up and keep trying to strive for greatness.

Salutatorian: Tylor Lillian Roach, 17

GPA: 4.46

PARENTS: Priscilla Douglas and Alvin Roach

COLLEGE: St. Petersburg College; University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My dad, who has always supported and encouraged me.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Dowling, for influencing my decision to become a veterinarian. I thought being a veterinarian technician was alright, but she pushed me to aim higher.

BEST MEMORY: Becoming a member of the National Honor Society.

MADE IT THROUGH: Giving a speech for my AVID I, II, and III classes about an inspiring African-American person.

PASSION IN LIFE: To display to all women that they are just as smart and as talented as men, and can do more if they are willing to try.


Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High

Valedictorian: Nicholas Gene Kalteux, 17

GPA: 4.82

PARENT: Sheila Kalteux

COLLEGE: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. For as long as I can remember she has provided me with the tools to create my own success in life.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Zulli, for the unique opportunity he has provided me. As a high school student, the certifications and experience in a development environment I have gained are invaluable.

BEST MEMORY: The days that Microsoft sent a film crew to our school to document what we do in the CNSAP. I was one of the three people chosen for extended interviews.

MADE IT THROUGH: The magnetism section in AP physics B.

PASSION IN LIFE: Mathematics and computer science, which I intend to pursue in college.

BEST THING I LEARNED: To find something that you love and invest time into it. The best measures of success are the ones that you yourself create.

Salutatorian: Scotty Schenck, 18

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Robin Schenck and Thomas Schenck

COLLEGE: Northeastern University, Boston

INFLUENCED BY: My friend Tiffney Kitiratanasumpun, who goes to Northeastern University and convinced me to apply. She has been a great help in my high school journey and she has helped me learn so many things.

SHOUT-OUT: To my journalism teachers Kathleen Tobin and Alecia Stephenson for keeping me sane during our high school paper's production week. The fact they can handle all the work they do is amazing to me, and they do a very good job.

BEST MEMORY: My friend Danny and me eating pizza together. He still owes me eight more of them.

MADE IT THROUGH: My senior year, when I had to work hard and finish up my work and fight off urges to quit.

PASSION IN LIFE: Writing. There is an unidentifiable beauty in the art of words that mystifies me.

BEST THING I LEARNED: How to just be. If you live your life trying to regulate others and make them live according to your standards, you are going to live a very hard life.

Largo High

Valedictorian: Tristan Brockwell, 18

GPA: 4.88

PARENTS: Robert and Barbara Brockwell

COLLEGE: Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

INFLUENCED BY: My mother, who instilled these concepts in me — "Happiness is a choice," "We are here to help each other" and "Live with an attitude of gratitude." My parents model them every day.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. William Renfroe, LHS choir director, and math teachers Mr. Frasier and Mr. Pease for their part in my appreciation of those subjects. They have not just taught me, they have inspired me and I have always felt they believed in me.

BEST MEMORY: Trying to pick just one "best memory" reminds me of how wonderful this time has been: representing Pinellas County at the State Academic Challenge, making all-state chorus, performing at Carnegie Hall, tennis team matches, performing in Austria, getting a 5 on my first AP exam, Madrigal Dinners, singing barbershop quartet, attending Youth in Government in Tallahassee, playing tin man in The Wizard of Oz and so much more.

MADE IT THROUGH: My toughest moment is coming on June 2, 2014 — graduation. I am saying goodbye to wonderful friends and four fabulous years of amazing experiences.

PASSION IN LIFE: Wanting to make a difference and living every moment with energy and appreciation.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Work hard, dream big and you can make anything happen.

Salutatorian: Haval Hakki, 17

GPA: 4.61

PARENTS: Hadi Hakki and Istabrak Hakki

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My mom, because she is committed to devoting her life to her sons.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Frasier, the calculus teacher at Largo High. I have never seen a teacher who works and cares so much for the success of his students.

BEST MEMORY: Getting accepted into college.

MADE IT THROUGH: My junior year, when I had to make the transition from taking two AP classes and doing nothing outside of school, to around five in one year — along with extracurricular activities and other things.

PASSION IN LIFE: To be one of the best at something that I want to do and enjoy doing. Right now I'm waiting on time to tell me what that something is.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote by Mahatma Gandhi — "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do."

Northeast High

Valedictorian: Melanie Marie MacBain, 18

GPA: 4.81

PARENTS: Nancy and Gary MacBain

COLLEGE: Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne

INFLUENCED BY: Felix McCauley, my teacher since ninth grade. He has helped me achieve my school and career goals thus far, as well as set goals for my future.

SHOUT-OUT: To my middle school science teacher, Paul Aunspaugh, for encouraging me to get involved with USF St. Petersburg's Oceanography Camp for Girls, and helping me realize what I want to do with my life.

BEST MEMORY: Working in teams to pick up various objects, such as beach balls and student desks, with nothing more than one pencil per person. As a class we managed to lift a desk with four people sitting on it without breaking a single pencil.

MADE IT THROUGH: Almost losing my grandmother. She has always been a role model to me, but thanks to a modern-day miracle she is still with me today.

PASSION IN LIFE: Education. I have seen education bring joy to many lives, whether I am teaching someone a concept or I am learning something new.

BEST THING I LEARNED: As cliche as it may seem, goal-setting gives people something to look forward to as well as something to work toward. And as long as you believe in your personal ability, no goal in unachievable.

Co-Salutatorian: Jacob Caylor Benson, 17

GPA: 4.77

PARENTS: Mark and Kiki Benson

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who is always pushing me to succeed both in and out of the classroom.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. McCauley, who helped guide me through the beginning of my high school career, developing in me a drive to succeed in my academic life and pursue a higher academic degree.

BEST MEMORY: Giving a speech in the Striking Viking talent competition in front of friends, family and teachers while stripping down to Elmo boxer shorts.

MADE IT THROUGH: The decision not to return to the wrestling team for my senior year. After three years with the team, I chose to focus on my academics and finish high school strong.

PASSION IN LIFE: Competing, whether it be in athletics, academics or any other phase of life. I hope to pursue a career in law, where I will constantly be pushed by peers to higher levels of success.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A classmate once told me something that sticks with me on every test day I have — "You either know it or you don't."

Co-Salutatorian: Brandon Wizikowski, 18

GPA: 4.77

PARENTS: Daniel Wizikowski and Stephanie Wizikowski

COLLEGE: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who taught me many valuable lessons and encouraged me to work hard and follow my dreams.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. McCauley, for pushing me the past four years and training my Todd Center class to think and work like professional adults rather than high school students.

BEST MEMORY: Receiving my acceptance letter from Embry-Riddle and realizing I am on my way to achieving my dreams.

MADE IT THROUGH: When I broke my collarbone playing hockey. It was difficult to keep up with school work and recover physically at the same time.

PASSION IN LIFE: Flight and space flight. I have always been interested in the exploration of outer space and the machines that allow us to do so. This is why I am pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Time management.

Osceola Fundamental High

Valedictorian: Christina Elizabeth Tournant, 16

GPA: 4.81

PARENTS: Tava Wilson and Greg Tournant

COLLEGE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who works incredibly hard to provide for his loved ones and do the things he enjoys in life. He is an inspiration.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Ferguson, for being an amazingly dedicated teacher and role model and for making her classes fun and different so her students enjoy learning. You rock, Ferg.

BEST MEMORY: Swim team spirit meets.

MADE IT THROUGH: The physics B free-response section of the AP exam.

PASSION IN LIFE: Making the most out of every opportunity that I am given in order to help others and make an impact.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote from Mr. Engelhardt — "When you over think you stink."

Salutatorian: Megan Elizabeth Johnson, 18

GPA: 4.75

PARENTS: Christopher and Kimberly Johnson

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: My dad, who has always encouraged me to try my best and go wholeheartedly after my passions.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Simmons, for being the most unique math teacher I've ever had. She made us sing songs to learn calculus formulas — and it worked.

BEST MEMORY: Spirit Week.

MADE IT THROUGH: When I had to choose between what I wanted to do and what I was supposed to be doing. I didn't always choose right, but maybe that's what made those memories so tough.

PASSION IN LIFE: To leave the world a better place than I found it.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That everyone has a talent, and everyone's talent is special and worth recognizing.

Palm Harbor University High

Valedictorian: Savannah Ryburn, 18

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Colleen and Charles Ryburn

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Dr. Jane Goodall. Because of her research and revelations, my goal is to become a research zoologist, studying how to conserve, protect and understand endangered species.

SHOUT-OUT: To coach Darryl Southard, my calculus teacher, who I have had the privilege of having as a teacher for two years in a row. He is the most caring teacher I have ever had and I will truly miss being in his class.

BEST MEMORY: When my yearbook adviser Mrs. Judy Cannaday chose me and a few other students to go to New York City to accept an award for our yearbook.

MADE IT THROUGH: Balancing everything during my senior year. Many nights I stayed after school until 6 p.m. to edit the yearbook, then went home and worked on my homework until 11 p.m., and then worked on an AP art project until 3 in the morning.

PASSION IN LIFE: Success. No matter the challenge, I strive to complete it with efficiency and quality.

BEST THING I LEARNED: "One gets a strange feeling when you are about to leave a place. You will not only miss the people that you love, but you will miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you will never be this way ever again."

Salutatorian: Demetra Pantelis, 17

GPA: 4.78

PARENTS: John and Kathryn Pantelis

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My grandfather, Nick Pantelis. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and his illness is what made me become interested in the medical field.

SHOUT-OUT: To my chemistry teacher Mrs. Collias, who was the greatest teacher I had in high school. Her love of science is what motivated me to study chemistry in college.

BEST MEMORY: Homecoming Week senior year — dressing up each day, spending time with friends and enjoying our final year.

MADE IT THROUGH: Second semester junior year, trying to make plans for college and start deciding what I wanted to do in my future.

PASSION IN LIFE: To help those in need. I want to be a physician because I can heal patients and truly make a difference in the lives of people in my community.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Do what you love and don't worry about what others will say or think.

International Baccalaureate Program at Palm Harbor University High

Valedictorian: Zaydi Javeed, 17

GPA: 4.92

PARENTS: Najam Javeed and Samia Javeed

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: My brother, Masi Javeed, who has been the greatest influence on my academic performance and has helped me set a goal for the person I want to be. For me, he is the definition of an all-around great man.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Wellings, my third- and fifth-grade teacher at Ridgecrest Elementary. She opened my mind to the world and encouraged me to reach my full potential.

BEST MEMORY: Performing for the lip sync show as One Direction with Brian, Gabe, Nick and Anthony — and winning first place.

MADE IT THROUGH: Going into a quote test without having read the book.

PASSION IN LIFE: Success through overcoming hardships.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins — "It's not who you are inside, it's what you do that defines you."

Salutatorian: Aadith Moorthy, 17

GPA: 4.88

PARENTS: Suguna Moorthy and Subramaniam Satyamoorthy

COLLEGE: California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

SHOUT-OUT: To each of my teachers — because each one of them, right from kindergarten, have influenced and shaped me.

BEST MEMORY: On Nov. 8, 2013, a surprise letter from the College Board arrived in my mailbox. It informed me that I was one of 11 in the world to gain every single point on the AP calculus BC exam.

MADE IT THROUGH: Some of my greatest challenges have been associated with my expectations of others.

PASSION IN LIFE: Since I was 4, I have studied South Indian classical music, a very melodious and sublime art. As a vocalist and concert performer who has studied it for a decade, I find that pleasure engulfs those who hear or perform it.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Perfect practice makes perfect

Pinellas Park High

Valedictorian: Enise Chau Luu, 18

GPA: 4.77

PARENTS: Linh Luu and Kim Chau

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: My cousin, Mary Chau. She is basically my older sister and essentially my role model. Through her strong, independent nature, she has inspired me to always pursue my dreams and let nothing get in the way.

SHOUT-OUT: To my math teacher of three years, Mrs. Lake, because she has guided me through the ups and downs of high school. And to Mrs. Bradley, who has been like a mom to me through her truly caring nature.

BEST MEMORY: Our school's activities night every semester. It always brought pure enjoyment.

MADE IT THROUGH: Turning off the alarm clock in the morning.

PASSION IN LIFE: To always be happy and make others happy with whatever choices I will make in life.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Bad days do not last forever, for something good eventually comes along.

Salutatorian: Jennifer Vuu, 18

GPA: 4.71

PARENTS: Anh Vuu (mother) and Ty Vuuxx (father)

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: My mother. She's supported me throughout my whole life and I don't know what I would do without her.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Graham and LS for teaching me to step back and look at things differently. Also to Mrs. Lake and Mrs. Bradley for everything they've done for me.

BEST MEMORY: The whole high school experience.

MADE IT THROUGH: Delegating my time.

PASSION IN LIFE: Helping others.

BEST THING I LEARNED: When you're feeling down, just remember that things could be worse.

Seminole High

Valedictorian: Mikayla Bridges, 18

GPA: 4.81

PARENTS: Jonathan and Kimberlee Bridges

COLLEGE: Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.

INFLUENCED BY: Kathy Gavin, my Center for Education and Leadership Coordinator and teacher, who has pushed me to do my best since my freshmen year.

SHOUT-OUT: To Laurie Vaughn, my AP chemistry teacher, who was the first teacher to really push me to my limits. She is the reason I want to go into chemical engineering in the future.

BEST MEMORY: Going to Denver with my student council to present at the 2013 LEAD Conference.

MADE IT THROUGH: Being told as a junior I could no longer play sports due to getting too many concussions in one year.

PASSION IN LIFE: Traveling. In high school, I was lucky enough to study in Costa Rica and Italy over the summers.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Learning that I don't need to be the best in everything was incredibly helpful to learn early. It made me get my head out of studying and go out and enjoy being a kid while I can.

Co-Salutatorian: Jared Evan Hayduke, 18

GPA: 4.80

PARENTS: James and Tracey Hayduke

COLLEGE: University of Central Florida, Orlando

INFLUENCED BY: My father, who goes above and beyond at his job, while still finding the time for his family.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Vaughn. Without her, I would have never discovered the amazing world that is chemistry.

BEST MEMORY: Running at the cross country state meet my sophomore and junior year.

MADE IT THROUGH: Taking the AP chemistry exam.

PASSION IN LIFE: Being active. I love the outdoors and I try to get outside and explore as much as I possibly can, because there's just so much to see.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Something my coach told me in sophomore year: "You know what's easy? Quitting. Quitting is the easiest thing anyone could do, ever. But pushing your limits and trying your very best, now that takes real guts."

Co-Salutatorian: Christina Marie Price, 18

GPA: 4.76

PARENTS: Lai and Roland Price

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My family, which has always supported me and encouraged me to do my best, and my best friend, Sarah, who has also been really supportive and has stood by me 100 percent.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Gavin, for always being there for her students and for being so caring and active in their lives. Also to Mrs. Schnake and Mrs. Vaughn.

BEST MEMORY: When our principal told me that I was co-salutatorian.

MADE IT THROUGH: Around AP exam time during junior year. I had to study for hours every night to take three tough exams, and my summer dual enrollment class was starting at the same time.

PASSION IN LIFE: To be a successful pediatrician and eventually open up my own practice.

BEST THING I LEARNED: A quote from Walt Disney — "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

St. Petersburg Collegiate High

Valedictorian: Alyssa Nguyen, 17

GPA: 4.92

PARENTS: Jennifer Ma and Nam Nguyen

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: My mom. She always has a smile on her face that brightens my entire day and motivates me to work hard.

SHOUT-OUT: To my eighth-grade computer teacher, Mrs. Myers. Her passion and dedication shines through in her teaching.

BEST MEMORY: Every single day. My years at St. Petersburg Collegiate High were amazing, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to be a part of the Collegiate family.

MADE IT THROUGH: Leaving high school.

PASSION IN LIFE: To bring happiness to every person that I meet.

BEST THING I LEARNED: My friend Salina Som told me that in order to make a good speech, I must be passionate about that topic. I think that can be applied to life.

Salutatorian: Sorany Son, 18

GPA: 4.90

PARENTS: Mary Ann Son and Hoa Son

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My dear father, who is my No. 1 supporter and has influenced me to reach my utmost full potential in all that I do. He was a refugee from Vietnam and experienced hardships, yet strives hard to provide a better life for my family and is my inspiration and motivational drive to pursue a higher degree in education.

SHOUT-OUT: To professor William Range from the St. Petersburg College Gibbs Campus English Department for always being there to support me when I had essays to revise and strengthen, needed letters of recommendation, and needed moral support and guidance.

BEST MEMORY: Traveling to Orlando for the National Phi Theta Kappa Nerd Nation 2014 Convention and the All-Florida Academic Team Awards Ceremony with my Eta Nu friends.

MADE IT THROUGH: Deciding what to say in my salutatorian speech for high school graduation.

PASSION IN LIFE: To study medicine and become a surgeon. This is my way of giving back to the community by helping others.

BEST THING I LEARNED: There will always be a "crumble moment" in your life. However, never let that "crumble moment" overcome you; be strong, get back up, reflect and move on.

St. Petersburg High

Valedictorian: Monica Calderon, 17

GPA: 4.82

PARENTS: Sol and Guillermo Calderon

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: Maia Doughtie. She opened my eyes to what real humor is.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Benton, Mr. Tarrou and Mr. Ronnenkamp for inspiring me to be excited about learning. Not only are they amazing teachers who go beyond the normal maximum effort teachers put in, but they are also genuinely awesome people.

BEST MEMORY: "Class Color Day" at this year's homecoming week was the first day it really began to sink in that I was a senior. We all united to wear our all-black attire; it was a day of memories and good spirits.

MADE IT THROUGH: Balancing grades, extracurriculars, volunteering, everything that goes into college decisions, graduation-related activities, and still trying to maintain sanity through somewhat of a social life.

PASSION IN LIFE: To find and ultimately do what will make me happy, as well as helping others and surrounding myself with cool, supportive people.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Nothing lasts forever so enjoy everything while you have the chance.

Salutatorian: James Guthrie Cohen Jr., 18

GPA: 4.77

PARENTS: James Cohen Sr. and Whitney Cohen

COLLEGE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

INFLUENCED BY: Lil B, who taught me that spreading positivity throughout the Earth is everybody's duty.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mr. Tarrou, Mr. Benton and Mr. Ronnenkamp. No teachers have been more dedicated to their classes or their students. Thank you for your inspiration.

BEST MEMORY: It's probably going to be graduating.

MADE IT THROUGH: Losing to Brent Guthrie in the final high school ping pong tournament.

PASSION IN LIFE: Gaining experience and learning.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Coach Brian Cuff taught me the only thing that is brown and sticky: a stick.

International Baccalaureate Program at St. Petersburg High

Valedictorian: Adela Lilollari, 18

GPA: 4.90

PARENTS: Anila Lilollari and Fredi Lilollari

COLLEGE: Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

INFLUENCED BY: The dedication and perseverance that my parents have modeled for me. The sacrifices they have made in their own lives so that I could fulfill the dreams in mine are selfless and inspiring.

SHOUT-OUT: To my first-grade ESOL teacher, Maria Munoz. She helped navigate the way as I assimilated into a new academic environment and a new country.

BEST MEMORY: My first debate competition. Through the debate team I found a close-knit community that I could be a part of, and an activity that empowered me.

MADE IT THROUGH: The college application process. It was so daunting in the beginning and I was always worried I was doing everything wrong. With the help of my guidance counselor, Mrs. Johnson, I was able to successfully make my way through this process.

PASSION IN LIFE: Public policy, the political process and biology.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Be bold with your goals, and be bolder when trying to achieve them.

Co-Salutatorian: Diego Lasso, 17

GPA: 4.89

PARENTS: Dolores Lasso and Diego Lasso

COLLEGE: University of Miami, Coral Gables

INFLUENCED BY: My sister, because I've watched her succeed and looked up to her as I grew up. She inspires me to work hard and I want to follow in her footsteps.

SHOUT-OUT: To Mrs. Love, a teacher I had at Seminole Middle School, for encouraging me and believing in me. She had a way of discovering each student's talents and helped them reach their highest potential.

BEST MEMORY: Participating in Gold Fever, the annual lip-sync and dance competition at our school. I had a great experience working with my friends learning dances and songs for our performances.

MADE IT THROUGH: Preparing for IB HL Biology exams.

PASSION IN LIFE: To use the many gifts that I'm fortunate enough to have to help others.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Everything comes to an end, and it is important to always enjoy and appreciate the moments and experiences that you have throughout life.

Co-Salutatorian: Irina Trenkova, 18

GPA: 4.89

PARENTS: Svetla Trenkova and Dimitar Trenkov

COLLEGE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

INFLUENCED BY: My sister has inspired me and given me infinite courage. She has supported me in all my endeavors and I have grown and learned as a result of her own ambitious and pioneering ways.

SHOUT-OUT: To my English teacher, Mrs. Vann, for all the passion and joy she brought to the subject and teaching her students to be bold, daring and unafraid to speak their minds.

BEST MEMORY: Knowing my efforts had made an impact in someone's life. I tutored a second-grade student at my old elementary school and it was the most rewarding experience to see his face light up when a problem he had struggled with previously was now overcome.

MADE IT THROUGH: When I had to balance school, volunteering, online classes, a job and my mother leaving for a month, and my responsibilities increased exponentially.

PASSION IN LIFE: To write and inspire people. I want to help people with my writing — make them feel hope, comfort and connection.

BEST THING I LEARNED: I learned that things aren't always going to be easy, but that shouldn't stop one from trying. You are going to regret the chances you did not take, so instead maximize every opportunity that comes your way and fight for your dreams.

Tarpon Springs High

Valedictorian: Chelsea Renée Hudgens, 18

GPA: 4.80

PARENTS: Andrea and Roger Hudgens

COLLEGE: University of South Florida, Tampa

INFLUENCED BY: Former astronaut Story Musgrave, who I met at an air show event my junior year. At the time, I was questioning my intended career path. I expressed my interest in piloting, space flight and physics, and he was very informative and encouraging. After that, I really understood what I wanted to study and do with my life.

SHOUT-OUT: To my chemistry teacher, Mrs. Priddy, for her confidence in me and (re)inspiring my interest in science.

BEST MEMORY: I have a somewhat strict math teacher who does a unique rendition of "Happy Birthday" — loud, off-key and frankly quite ridiculous, but hilarious nonetheless. That's the one memory of high school that always makes me laugh.

MADE IT THROUGH: The AP chemistry exam.

PASSION IN LIFE: Discovery and knowledge. Maybe that's why I've always loved science.

BEST THING I LEARNED: That you won't be happy if you let others place limits on you or tell you what to do with your life. Never abandon what you love; dedicate your life to something you're passionate about. Happiness will follow.

Salutatorian: Maria Savvina Pantelis, 18

GPA: 4.79

PARENTS: Emmanuel Pantelis and Marianna Pantelis

COLLEGE: University of Florida, Gainesville

INFLUENCED BY: My brother. Not only does his success in school inspire me, but he also has the kindest heart, and he inspires me to be a better person every day.

SHOUT-OUT: To Ms. Tsongranis for not only pushing me to always do my best, but also for reminding me that it's okay to take a breather every once in awhile.

BEST MEMORY: My days in Ms. Tsongranis' TV production class. And then there was Greek class ...

MADE IT THROUGH: November through February of this school year. Waiting to hear back from universities easily made for the most anxiety I've felt at any point in high school.

PASSION IN LIFE: To help other people and be the best person I can be.

BEST THING I LEARNED: Dream big. Work hard. Have faith. Be grateful.


  1. In this image from a Pinellas County school district video, former School Board member Lee Benjamin motions to someone he knows while sitting with family members during at 2013 ceremony to name the Northeast High School gymnasium in his honor. Mr. Benjamin was the school's first basketball coach in 1954 and later became Northeast's principal in a long career with Pinellas schools that included 14 years on the School Board. He died Wednesday at age 92. Pinellas County Schools
    He was a teacher, coach and eventually the principal of Northeast High in St. Petersburg. Then he became a district administrator and later, a School Board member.
  2. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri chairs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which is preparing its second round of recommendations for lawmakers.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle pieces together a skull that might have been Amelia Earhart's. SANDRA C. ROA  |  University of South Florida
    DNA from a skull found in 1940 could prove whether the famous aviator has been found.
  4. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
  5. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The sides have not set a time to resume discussions on teacher pay.
  6. Vials of medical marijuana oil. [Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. The Pasco County school district is considering adopting a policy for student medical marijuana use on district property. [Getty Images]
    The rule will not change the district’s current approach to the touchy topic.
  8. Shown in 2002, Carolyn Hill, then the principal of Kenly Elementary School in east Tampa, celebrated after 78 of her students improved their state scores and were treated to lunch at The Colonnade Restaurant. Hill, now deceased, might be honored Tuesday as the Hillsborough County School Board considers naming a school for her in the SouthShore area. STAFF  |  Tampa Bay Times
    School Board members will select a name on Tuesday
  9. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, 55, is now in his 11th year leading the fourth largest school district in the nation. Miami Herald
    The charismatic leader of the nation’s fourth-largest school district has a complicated legacy. He almost took over the Pinellas County School District in 2008.
  10. Alachua County school superintendent Karen Clarke welcomes the crowd at a "listening session" Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 to discuss changes in the Florida's education standards. A similar session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jefferson High, 4401 W Cypress St. in Tampa. The Florida Channel
    A roundup of stories from around the state.