Top of their class: Pinellas County private school valedictorians and salutatorians

CAPTION: (05/22/2005 St. Petersburg, FL) Graduates from the Eckerd College Collegium of Natural Sciences make their way to the forty-second annual commencement on the Eckerd's campus in St. Petersburg Sunday, May 22, 2005.  Over 500 students graduated from Eckerd including Charles Bryant, the son of Liberian President Gyude Bryant.   Staff Photo-James Borchuck
STORY SUMMARY:  eckerd college graduation (Times photo by James Borchuck)
CAPTION: (05/22/2005 St. Petersburg, FL) Graduates from the Eckerd College Collegium of Natural Sciences make their way to the forty-second annual commencement on the Eckerd's campus in St. Petersburg Sunday, May 22, 2005. Over 500 students graduated from Eckerd including Charles Bryant, the son of Liberian President Gyude Bryant. Staff Photo-James Borchuck STORY SUMMARY: eckerd college graduation (Times photo by James Borchuck)
Published May 22, 2015

As the 2014-15 school year winds down, it's time to check in with the top graduates from Pinellas County high schools. We asked them 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: Who has influenced you most and why?

Shout-out: Is there a teacher you want to thank?

Best memory: Tell us about it.

Made it through: What was your toughest high school moment?

Passion in life: Share it with the world.

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.



Maximilian Matthias Jessen, 18, co-valedictorian

GPA: 4.40

Parents: Petra and Rolf Jessen

College: University of California, San Diego

Influenced by: My father, who changed my life separately from being a parent.

Shout-out: To Caesar Robalino. His cosmopolitan insight served as critical advice in the present as well as for the future.

Best memory: The work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has not just shaped my understanding and perception of the world as a whole, but developed thoughts I was previously unaccustomed to.

Passion in life: Success

Best thing I learned: "Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook, and a good digestion." — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Ian Mech Schlifstein, 18, co-valedictorian

GPA: 4.40

Parents: Michele Horwitz and Brett Schlifstein

College: University of Miami

Influenced by: Cross country coach Phil Barnhill, who taught me to stay dedicated not only in running, but in every aspect of my life.

Shout-out: To my English teacher Heather Ewing for the countless number of essays she proofread, edited and gave her opinion on.

Best memory: The day that the positions for our JROTC officer corps were announced, and I was chosen for the top cadet, the regimental commander.

Made it through: Moving into the dorms. There were a lot more distractions since I was living with friends. I had to manage my time wisely.

Passion in life: To be successful in whatever endeavor I wish to pursue and make a positive difference in the world, hopefully large enough to be remembered for in years to come.

Best thing I learned: Be yourself and take advantage of every opportunity that you can. One day, you'll blink, and it'll be all over.

Melissa Ann Brizzi, 17, salutatorian

GPA: 4.39

Parents: Michael and Brenda Brizzi

College: U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Conn.

Influenced by: My mum Brenda Brizzi. She has always pushed me to exceed my expectations and has provided me with many different extraordinary learning experiences. She has shown me that, "When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window."

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Shout-out: To my marine science teacher Scott Davenport for assisting me and encouraging me to pursue a major and career in marine science. He has always conducted his classes and field trips in such an educational and entertaining manner, forever captivating my imagination.

Best memory: In ninth grade, going to the Upper Division Drill Team trip in 2012 to Mobile, Ala., for the Mardi Gras parade. Many great memories were made in Mobile and Pensacola, as well as during the 10-plus-hour bus ride.

Made it through: Being initially rejected from the NJROTC Area 7 Leadership Academy after a limit was placed on the number of billets. I eventually proved my worth by getting accepted as an alternate, achieving outstanding marks on my physical fitness test and being awarded the Top Academics Medal.

Passion in life: My church, my family, my friends, reading, learning, laughing and the great outdoors — fishing, hunting, target practicing, swimming, sailing.

Best thing I learned: "Laugh at yourself, but don't ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don't leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory." — Alan Alda



Jerry Ray Logemann, 18, valedictorian

GPA: 4.46

Parents: Jacklyn and Jerold Logemann

College: University of South Florida Honors College, Tampa

Influenced by: My mother, who has supported me in everything I do, taught me many valuable lessons and always encourages me to work hard and follow my dreams.

Shout-out: To my band teacher Mr. Martell. His spiritual and musical guidance has been extremely beneficial throughout my time in high school.

Best memory: Participating in the annual Florida State Spanish Conference and receiving a perfect score on my impromptu speech. Mrs. Clarke, my Spanish teacher, has intensified my love for Spanish language and culture.

Made it through: Accepting that my grandmother will not be attending my graduation because of her passing. She was my No. 1 fan.

Passion in life: My enthusiasm for advances in medical sciences, technology and knowledge drive me toward becoming a radiologist.

Best thing I learned: "There is no end to learning; you just move to the next level."

Matthew James Godwin, 18, salutatorian

GPA: 4.41

Parents: John and Barbara Godwin

College: University of Florida Honors College, Gainesville

Influenced by: My father. He has an incredible work ethic and I hope to be more like him.

Shout-out: To my social studies teacher Mrs. Johnson for showing me the benefit of hard work and for being a wonderful teacher for the last three years.

Best memory: Playing tennis and growing up with my friend Bob Shank.

Made it through: Studying for AP European history.

Passion in life: Having fun and being happy with my work.

Best thing I learned: Over the years I've grown to know more about and appreciate my personality and who I am.



Chedomir (Ched) Milic, 18, valedictorian

GPA: 5.0

Parents: Maja and Milic Milic

College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Influenced by: My parents, for teaching me the values of education, family, love and respect.

Shout-out: To Mr. Ken Johnson for his guidance over the past seven years as a cross country and track coach, homeroom adviser and general mentor-in-chief. I also thank him for being light-hearted enough to tell me not to make this stuffy.

Best memory: The conversations I had with Mr. Wyness, Ms. Alderson, Mrs. Smith, Mr. Murphy, Mrs. Hehn, Ms. Brown and my friends, plus track practice with friends and Coach Valentine.

Made it through: Junior year. I did three sports and took eight AP classes and participated in so many clubs.

Passion in life: Committing myself wholeheartedly to whatever I attempt — that includes track, my grades and being good to my little brother Tadeja.

Best thing I learned: "Kant, duty. Duty, Kant. Ought implies can." — Ken Johnson

Benjamin Joseph Bryant, 18, salutatorian

GPA: 4.88

Parents: Lesly and David Bryant

College: Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, N.Y.

Influenced by: Many people have influenced me, so selecting one here would be arbitrary and unfair.

Shout-out: I have had many excellent teachers who have contributed to my academic and personal growth.

Best memory: My miniterm trip to Disney World was one of my favorite memories.

Made it through: Having to select a limited number of classes each year.



Rachel Gallagher, 17, valedictorian

GPA: 4.74

Parents: Brian and Lisa Gallagher

College: Chapman University, Orange, Calif.

Influenced by: My mom, because of her constant inspiration and motivation, without which I wouldn't strive to challenge myself and reach for such incredible heights as I have and continue to do.

Shout-out: To Sikica Feldman, a previous teacher of mine and now a dean at my high school. She has always shown me the utmost respect and support and treated me like an adult, allowing me to gain the confidence to make my own decisions.

Best memory: When 17 of my closest high school friends flew 1,000 miles to surprise me for my 16th birthday party. I remember being in a state of absolute euphoria the entire time they were there.

Made it through: Having to give up my social life the fall of my senior year due to the tremendous workload I inflicted on myself. I was writing college essays, studying for the SAT, flying across the country for college performing arts auditions, directing a school show and maintaining my high school work. But all the hard work paid off.

Passion in life: I have an incredible passion for acting and a driving purpose to contribute to the entertainment industry by being a positive role model. I will be pursuing this passion starting in the fall at CU within their highly competitive Screen Acting BFA

Best thing I learned: You are in control of your own life and you can go as far as you have the drive and determination to. This concept has gotten me exactly where I wanted to be so far, and I feel I can confidently predict it will take me even farther for years to come.

Connor Tyler Gray Hillman, 18, salutatorian

GPA: 4.40

Parents: John and Star Hillman

College: New York University, New York

Influenced by: Jim Carrey, whose movies got me through a very unhappy time when I was younger. It taught me that entertaining can make people happy on a broad scale, inspiring what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Shout-out: To our performing arts teacher Mona Lim, who taught me to speak up, how to walk straight, project my voice, grasp music, stay in character, perform a monologue and focus my purpose.

Best memory: Performing as the lead in a group number for the school's spring show, along with friends both new and old. It made me recognize how far I had come from the chubby, ostracized, weird kid with few friends.

Made it through: My first year of playing football was tough because I was much heavier than I am now. But I turned losing weight into my primary purpose of playing. From there, the purpose evolved into starting in games, winning a championship, making lifelong friends and creating goals in everything I do.

Passion in life: Making people happy.

Best thing I learned: The value of education. The intention of understanding the world has gotten me through every class.



Cody Russell Carrigan, 18, co-valedictorian

GPA: 4.36

Parents: Kelly and Lea Carrigan

College: Stetson University, DeLand

Influenced by: My father. I am grateful for his dedication to making sure I grew up to be a responsible, mature young man.

Shout-out: To my AP human geography teacher Mr. Hayward for preparing me to face college.

Best memory: The time when my two buddies and I took a weekend trip to Jacksonville for Rockville Festival 2015.

Made it through: Getting my first B in AP lit and comp. It really challenged me to keep pushing, but also taught me there will be times in life when you will have to accept that you can't be perfect.

Passion in life: Music, which takes a part of everything I do. I couldn't imagine a world without music.

Best thing I learned: There's a reason we don't get everything we want. To quote my favorite artist, "When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed."

Nathan Kyle, 18, co-valedictorian

GPA: 4.36

Parents: Frederick and Mercel Kyle

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Influenced by: My best friend, Allie. She has helped me get through the last few years and has always been able to put a smile on my face.

Shout-out: To Mr. Hayward for all the knowledge he has provided for us and all the life lessons he has shown us.

Best memory: A mission trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where I bonded and performed various jobs with a bunch of amazing people.

Made it through: My junior year, when my grades were slipping. But through hard work and dedication I made it.

Passion in life: I have always enjoyed drawing and will continue to draw throughout my life.

Best thing I learned: "The loneliest people can be the kindest. The saddest people sometimes smile the brightest. The most damaged people are filled with wisdom. All because they do not wish the pain they've endured on another soul."

Madison Paige Krajeski, 18, salutatorian

GPA: 4.29

Parents: Robert and Denise Krajeski

College: Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

Influenced by: My father, who always pushes me to have strong work ethic and to never take anything in life for granted.

Shout-out: To my AP Human Geography teacher, World Religions teacher and soccer coach Mr. Rich Hayward. Thank you for teaching me to strive to do my best in the classroom and on the soccer field while doing everything for the glory of God.

Best memory: Being given the position of Chief-Editor-of-Publishing senior year for my school's yearbook, and working on staff for the past three years.

Made it through: Balancing many advanced courses while staying involved in numerous activities.

Passion in life: To continue my walk with Christ, because without Him I wouldn't be where I am today.

Best thing I learned: That my desire is no matter the outcome of any situation, that I glorify God with the talents He has blessed me with. That my integrity and character are always a representation of my Savior.



Mark J. Trotter, 18, valedictorian

GPA: 4.70

Parents: J Mark and Michelle Trotter

College: Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

Influenced by: The magician that transformed a young, hare-brained boy who "doodled" on the French horn into a man passionately pursuing a career in orchestral horn performance. I know that my future was carefully forged by a master craftsman, an unparalleled musician in her own right. Though I was often unaware, I am forever grateful to Carolyn Wahl.

Best memory: 22-20. Keswick Christian edges out Santa Fe Catholic to kick off my senior year as starting center on the varsity football team. Following a humbling 0-10 season the prior year, this hard-won district victory paved the way to our first winning season in five long years — Go Crusaders!

Made it through: Sophomore year, when I contracted a severe respiratory illness that transformed the simple act of breathing into an unpredictable and desperate fight for life. This experience forced me to contemplate the frailty of life and cultivate an eternal perspective — one that allows me to more readily accept the small nuisances of life and appreciate the everyday moments of grace seen each day.

Passion in life: I find myself moving fluidly between the sweat of Florida football, late-night AP study sessions and acoustically-balanced music rehearsals, honing my technique and sharpening my body, mind and soul to more closely fulfill God's purposes for my life. This is my passion.

Best thing I learned: Pearl of Wisdom: "Good enough isn't."

Lindsey Rebekah Carroll, 17, salutatorian

GPA: 4.61

Parents: Kathryn and Jeff Carroll

College: Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio

Influenced by: My mom. She's the hardest worker I've ever known, and she'll always be my first best friend.

Shout-out: It's hard to choose one. Mrs. Costa, Mrs. Ibs, Miss Hintz, and Mrs. Coleman have all selflessly taken time to invest in my life and have really made me love learning.

Best memory: A few of us on my swim team formed the Unofficial Official Swim Team Cheerleading Squad. Basically, we knelt on the pool deck when we weren't in the pool and shouted encouraging things at the people swimming, hoping (in vain) that they could hear us.

Made it through: Having to complete timed essays, especially on AP exams when there would be three in a row.

Passion in life: Learning. Even when I'm eventually finished with school, I hope I'll never stop being in a place where I can learn something new.

Best thing I learned: That it's always worth it to care about someone else. I've also learned about just being myself.



Rachel Trofemuk, 18, valedictorian

GPA: 4.15

Parents: Joe and Debbie Trofemuk

College: Clearwater Christian College

Influenced by: My mother, through the godly example she has set and the self-sacrificing love she shows towards my family. No words can adequately describe the profound impact she has had on my life.

Shout-out: To my English teacher, Mrs. Coffman, because she has prepared me for college more than any other teacher, and has been a godly encouragement and example in my life.

Best memory: My senior trip when we went skiing at Ober Gatlinburg, Tenn. Some of my friends and I were terrible at skiing, so we decided to have a snowball fight instead.

Made it through: Freshman year, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy.

Passion in life: Serving my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and seeking to honor him through all I do.

Best thing I learned: That the ultimate purpose of my life is to bring God glory through everything I do, including academics.

Brittney K. Wescott, 18, salutatorian

GPA: 3.85

Parent: Jackie Wescott

College: St. Petersburg College, then University of South Florida

Influenced by: My friends. They have helped me through hard times and encouraged me to keep going.

Shout-out: To Mr. Thayer, my drama teacher, for helping me overcome my stage fright and encouraging me to be confident in myself.

Best memory: Anytime I was laughing with my friends at lunch or in class.

Made it through: Trigonometry, which was the hardest part of high school. The entire class had to struggle through a curriculum change halfway through the year and an accelerated learning pace because of it.

Passion in life: Science and the continuous pursuit of knowledge.

Best thing I learned: First, to remain true to myself and not let others have a negative influence on the way I view and enjoy life. Second, I need to be true to my friends and my family, because they are the ones that are there to celebrate with me in the good times, and help me through the bad.



Stephen Senderoff, 19, valedictorian

GPA: 4.76

Parents: Lynn and Nathaniel Senderoff

College: Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers

Influenced by: My mother. She made sure I always strived for excellence in every activity.

Shout-out: To Mrs. Sharon Smith for giving me confidence in my academic endeavors and making me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to.

Best memory: A school-sponsored mission trip to New Orleans freshman year. It was a very fulfilling experience and I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with my fellow students.

Made it through: Juggling a tough academic curriculum, a part-time job, being the lead in the school musical and being on the varsity basketball team in my junior and senior years.

Passion in life: Helping kids and making sure I do everything I can to help prepare them for their future.

Best thing I learned: "Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!" — Dr. Seuss.

Jordan Thomas, 18, co-salutatorian

GPA: 4.74

Parents: Frank and Amy Thomas

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Influenced by: My mom. I find her hard work, determination and loving heart inspiring.

Shout-out: To Mrs. Sharon Smith, for guiding me not only within the classroom but also outside of it. She has taught me so much and I can't thank her enough.

Best memory: My class winning homecoming week during our junior year. We had always been in competition with our upperclassmen, and we were able to work together as a class to defeat the seniors.

Passion in life: Drawing and many other types of art. I hope to incorporate this passion into my career.

Best thing I learned: This quote sums it up: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are."

Gayle Wiesemann, 18, co-salutatorian

GPA: 4.74

Parents: Fred and Suki Wiesemann

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Influenced by: Dr. Susan Zito, who has shown me the world of medicine and has helped me want to avidly pursue a career in this field. She exemplifies female power by managing to have a strong career while raising a family.

Shout-out: To Mrs. Regina Artille for making AP biology bearable.

Best memory: Dominating homecoming week junior year.

Passion in life: Serving others and living a healthy lifestyle.

Best thing I learned: "A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him." — David Brinkley



Shiloh Rae Creasy, 18, co-valedictorian

GPA: 4.0

Parents: Scott and Shellie Creasy

College: University of South Florida, Tampa

Influenced by: My parents. From them I have learned compassion, love, patience and a valuable work ethic.

Shout-out: To Mrs. Smith, because she counseled and mentored me, but most of all because she loved me. I will never be able to repay her for what she has done.

Best memory: Acting in plays and winning senior year volleyball championship. To see time, dedication and hard work come to fruition is a beautiful thing.

Made it through: Losing the lead in my senior play to my best friend. I was extremely disappointed, yet so ecstatic for her. (It ended up being for the better!)

Passion in life: To see lives changed through the power of Jesus Christ. Other than this primary passion, I thoroughly enjoy reading, writing, acting and dancing.

Best thing I learned: There is no substitute for faithfulness. Whether it be school work, sports, plays, work, friendships or a relationship with God, faithfulness is a necessity in order to flourish.

Kaila Brooke Preston, 17, co-valedictorian

GPA: 4.0

Parents: Eddie and Lori Preston

College: University of Tampa

Influenced by: My grandparents, who amaze me every day with not only their love for each other but also for the Lord and all those around them. Their constant encouragement and support has had such an impact on my life and I'm continually inspired by their selflessness and willingness to help anyone in need.

Shout-out: To Miss Goodfellow for being such an amazing example of what pouring the love of Jesus into children looks like. Her dedication, selflessness and willingness to help beyond the classroom is truly amazing and inspiring.

Best memory: The random, everyday events that have become so much a part of my life in the last four years — the crazy outbursts of laughter with my class, playing volleyball with my team, being a part of Mrs. Smith's plays, and avoiding class in Mrs. Macario's office.

Made it through: Juggling college, sports, family and extra-curricular activities definitely made for some tough moments in high school, but honestly, the hardest part was just staying awake!

Passion in life: To follow the heart of Jesus and pursue his plan for my life.

Best thing I learned: How to get out.

Erin Olivia Nelson, 17, salutatorian

GPA: 3.84

Parents: Charles and Patricia Nelson

College: St. Petersburg College, Tarpon Springs

Influenced by: My parents, whose wisdom, selflessness and discipline have shaped my character and have set my feet in the right direction for my walk through life. I am overwhelmed with their love, and I never could have asked for a better picture of what godly parents should be.

Shout-out: I am so thankful that I have Mrs. Smith in my life. Her portrayal of a faithful woman of God and devoted worker are things that I aspire to be.

Best memory: Along with being involved in fantastic plays and worshiping God during chapel, my best high school memories are those spent with those I love — the beautiful people that I am proud to call my friends.

Made it through: Taking college final exams on the same week of the play among other activities, or trying to stay awake in trig class (Sorry, Mr. Davis).

Passion in life: Jesus. Without Him, I would be nothing.

Best thing I learned: DO NOT PROCRASTINATE, and always make time for your family. Although I don't regret taking on so many obligations, I also wish I had taken a little more time to simply enjoy my last years in the freedom of childhood.



Kelly Anne Burke, 18, valedictorian

GPA: 4.54

Parents: Christopher and Maureen Burke

College: University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.

Influenced by: My father, who has taught me to strive for greatness in all aspects of life, to never give up on my goals and ambitions, and to remember that regardless of where I go, my family will always be my rock.

Shout-out: To Mrs. Kathleen King for being an ever-present source of encouragement, a set of listening ears, and a fantastic calculus instructor. I will never forget to "know my limits" — both in calculus and in life.

Best memory: Attending and performing at the Florida State Thespian Festival with Troupe 4127. My high school experience would have been completely different without this organization, and witnessing such incredible talent at the State Festival every year definitely augmented my love for musical theatre.

Made it through: Preparing for AP tests while making college decisions and rehearsing for the spring musical.

Passion in life: In addition to my love for music and theatre, I am very passionate about helping others — especially children. I hope to study in the field of cognitive science and use my college education in a way that will benefit people for generations.

Best thing I learned: Never let the opinions of others dictate who you are. Inner peace and true happiness can only be achieved when you are confident in yourself and pursue your passions.

Carissa Chanrasmi, 18, co-salutatorian

GPA: 4.52

Parents: Tony and Connie Chanrasmi

College: University of Florida, Gainesville

Influenced by: My lola (grandma), who has made a huge impact in my life because she has always been my biggest supporter and encourages me in all that I do. She helps me believe in myself.

Shout-out: To Mrs. King for dedicating so much time to her students, even FaceTiming our classes when she was recovering from surgery, and for sacrificing so many trees for learning's sake.

Best memory: Playing the female lead in The Pajama Game my junior year. It was an amazing experience because I love being on stage, especially with Troupe 4127.

Made it through: The first few weeks of high school, when I had a really hard time making friends. One day, a guy called me by the wrong name and now we're best friends going to the same college.

Passion in life: Learning, whether it's calculus, a dance routine or someone's life story. If I could get paid for simply being a student, that would be great.

Best thing I learned: Something a teacher once told me. We must aim for greatness but have a willingness to fail.

Nicolas DeBickero, 18, co-salutatorian

GPA: 4.52

Parents: Karen and Daniel DeBickero

College: Notre Dame Gateway Program

Influenced by: My mom, because she has always been the one to push me to be the person that I am today.

Shout-out: To Mrs. Schuyler, my science teacher, because she had one of the most hectic schedules out of all my teachers and still managed to teach everything the class needed to know. What's more, she had to deal with me for three years.

Best memory: Playing in the Public School versus Private School All-Star Game. My team won with a nail-biting final score of 74-71.

Made it through: Freshman year, when I ruptured my spleen and kidney during football practice. I had to be hospitalized for six days and make up all of my work after I recovered.

Passion in life: I've always loved studying the sciences, however basketball is my favorite sport and helps me when I need a break from studying.

Best thing I learned: One should always be him or herself. It's the only way to stand out from the crowd, and the only way to find one's true happiness in life.



Jackson Stovall Willis, 18, valedictorian

GPA: 4.91

Parents: Robert and Sally Willis

College: Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Influenced by: My younger brother, Walker, who never lets a day go by without a beaming smile and lots of laughter. Through the years, he has taught me upbeat optimism and how to keep an adventurous spirit.

Shout-out: To Mr. Field, finishing his 35th year of teaching, for his dedication to his students and their successes. As my math teacher, he taught me everything from mental math to calculus. As my advisor for four years, he taught me to embrace the many opportunities our high school offers.

Best memory: This past spring, I headed up to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a group of seniors, our chemistry teacher and Headmaster Murphy to open Tennessee's Elkmont Campgrounds for the season. From shoveling gravel to rainstorm camping, afterwards our week-long service trip smelled of … camaraderie.

Made it through: The summer before sophomore year, when my class and I unexpectedly lost a great peer and dear friend, Kyle Bastas. It was a difficult time, but his memory has made us a stronger class.

Passion in life: I always hope to contribute to my community and use what I have learned to make a tangible difference.

Best thing I learned: Education is one of the few things that is truly our own. I learned this lesson in the company of amazing teachers, inspiring peers and life-long friends.

Paul Reischmann, 18, salutatorian

GPA: 4.74

Parents: Ann Piccard and Charles Reischmann

College: Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn.

Influenced by: My teammates on St. Petersburg Aquatics. I wouldn't have the work ethic I have today without their company. They've shown me an incredible measure of commitment and passion that has helped me learn to push myself further.

Shout-out: To Dr. Emerson Littlefield, my AP English language and literature teacher for the last two years, for letting me learn to question everything.

Best memory: Spending an incredible three years with my girlfriend, Sabrina Angelides. To get to know such a genuinely kind, moral and confident person so closely has meant more to me than I can say.

Made it through: Losing my best friend Kyle Bastas during the summer after my freshman year. His loss came as a terrible shock to me and our entire grade, and it has meant a lot to me to come together as friends to console one another and celebrate his memory.

Passion in life: Our generation can't afford not to have a passion for the environment.

Best thing I learned: Four years of triumphs and mistakes have taught me that there's no sense in lying to myself. Whatever passion I pursue, I've learned that I can only be happy and successful if I honestly consider what kind of person my actions make me.