Durant High School: Tribune scholars profiles and essays

An invitation was extended to the top 3 percent of Hillsborough’s graduating seniors to take part in the annual competition.
Durant High School, 4748 Cougar Path in Plant City, opened in 1995.
Durant High School, 4748 Cougar Path in Plant City, opened in 1995. [ Facebook ]
Published May 19, 2021|Updated May 19, 2021

More than 200 of Hillsborough County’s top high school seniors from 35 public and private schools accepted an invitation to share their accomplishments and take part in an essay contest through the 2021 R.F. “Red” Pittman Tribune Scholars program. Their profiles and essays are published here, just as the students submitted them. To search all schools, click here.

Carissa Rodriguez

School Activities and Accomplishments

1. Swim Team- 4 Years; Captain Senior Year

2. Theater/Drama-4 Years; Captain Senior Year

3. National Honors Society Participant- 3 Years (Receiving 150 Community service hours through helping those in need and at my local animal shelter)

4. Lifeguard and Swim Instructor- Local Family YMCA- 2 ½ Years

5. Graduating with an Associates Degree from HCC before graduating High School

6. Acceptance into USF’s Upper Division Nursing Program

College or other post-high school plans:

Upper Division Nursing Program at the University of South Florida


At the beginning of 2020, our world went indoors, and while this was enough to stop the spread of Covid-19, we couldn’t stay inside forever. Through the diligence of many CDC workers, we have a vaccine after over a year of wearing masks and social distancing.

I believe the best thing we can do as a society to stem the progression of the coronavirus is to get the vaccine. While many disagree with this due to the vaccines 6-month warranty, I believe it provides CDC workers and doctors with time to find a more long-lasting approach. During these next few months, communities should continue in their efforts at social distancing and mask wearing. As U.S citizens, if we continue to work together by implementing the same rules we will soon rid of this virus. These rules include keeping restaurants at a limited capacity and enforcing citizens to wash their hands and stay socially distant.

Most of our efforts and concerns should go towards reopening schools to the majority of their capacity to give students the thorough education that they both deserve and need to succeed. Although a year of struggles has already passed, I believe with the efforts of many people worldwide, we will be able to leave Covid-19 in the past and move on to a bigger and brighter future.

Hannah Burbridge

School activities and accomplishments:

1. A part of Student Government Association for junior and senior years and currently hold the position of community service relations.

2. I was on freshman and sophomore student council

3. Secretary in the Students All Connected club in which I have been a member of all four years of high school

4. 1st place in regional S.T.E.M fair and won five special awards

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5. I coached a little league cheer team for 6 months

6. A member of National Honors Society

College or other post-high school plans:

Majoring in biology at the University of Florida


The steps necessary for the prevention of coronavirus are the updated rules set by the CDC. Additionally, in schools there should be special emphasis on why students should follow CDC guidelines. Most kids in school are young and healthy enough to not be severally effected if they were to contract the virus, yet they are perfect carriers and can easily spread the virus to higher at-risk individuals.

From personal experience, I have heard many students express a lack of care to follow covid-19 precautions due to their understanding that they will barely get sick. That is why I think schools should push the message that being covid conscious could save the lives of older at-risk individuals in their community. I also think that a lesson on RNA viruses should be incorporated into science class so that students can better understand why the CDC suggested guidelines are effective and why the virus is so deadly.

Students will be more willing to follow CDC guidelines and keep our schools safe if they can understand that their actions could save others and understand why social distancing and masks work

JaChé Bell

School activities and accomplishments:

  • Founder and president of school’s first Black Student Union
  • Week-long summer USF Pre-College Future Physicians and Health Care Professionals Program scholar.
  • Golf team member for 3 years.
  • Earned numerous hours volunteering at SouthFlorida Baptist Hospital and Shalon’s H.O.P.E (local nonprofit).
  • Will be graduating with over 50+ college credit hours from Hillsborough Community College.

College or other post-high school plans:

I plan to major in Biological Science on the Premed Track. While researching preventative actions to combat against Uterine Myoma and polycystic ovary syndrome.


COVID-19, a pandemic it has been. There are so many different opinions upon the guidelines that are being enforced. As a city, state, and country we want to move closer and back to normality. To do that we must practice proper protocols that are safe.

As responsible citizens, it’s our job to create a better community in which step one would be to wear proper masks. The contradictory element that comes in is bodily autonomy. This element isn’t necessarily based on science but rather on the morality of wearing masks. If masks are mandated, does this break one’s right to their body. Yes, you have a right to your body, though when your body then can become an ill tool towards others that’s where the problem lies.

Per WebMD, right when the pandemic hit the country of Taiwan as a whole started to wear masks. Taiwan’s population is at about 24 million people, though they have less than 1,000 reported COVID-19 cases in the past 13 months.

Going back to what we learned in elementary school of washing our hands, to disinfecting more regularly, and simply staying home when you don’t feel well. Such simple steps, though, can create an influential change in reducing the spread. This will allow us to move forward as a community in understanding the importance of defeating COVID-19. A pandemic that everyone is living in, but live as responsible citizens.

Laura Newman

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Student Government President

2. TV Production President

3. Two first place wins at the Tampa Bay Student Film Contest

4. National Honor Society Communication Liaison

5. Students All Connected Public Relations Officer

6. Varsity Swim Team/ Team Manager

College or other post high school plans:

I will be attending University of Florida and majoring in public relations with some kind of minor in video production.


The corona virus pandemic caused the world to come to a screeching halt. Thousands of people sick, thousands of people unemployed, thousands of people dying. This horrific disease attacked us on all fronts economic, social, political, yet we have not fought back as a united front.

Misinformation spews from the mouths of millions as they underestimate the power of this disease. Anti-maskers scream in germ filled bouts of ignorance over the medical professionals. There is only one way to gain clarity. Listen to the medical professionals. Heed their advice. Try to understand that if you are not at a substantial risk, some of your brothers and sisters are. Everyone wants to return to normal, but we must make sure we do it the right way. Keeping the most vulnerable in mind and thinking about the cause as something greater than yourself. Social media is such a powerful tool, posting accurate and helpful information to inform your peers is something we can all do. Drumming up support for the vaccine by sharing pictures post shot creates positive social pressure.

The only way we can get through these tumultuous times we are in is if we stick together, listen, and actively contribute to positive change as individuals. We are each only in control of our own actions and thoughts, but we can encourage and spread the word for others to educate themselves. Knowledge is power and the basis for action, which we desperately need to take.

Savannah Still

School activities and accomplishments:

-President of National Honor Society/member for 3 years

-I have completed nearly 300 hours of community service doing everything from tutoring calculus to singing Christmas carols at a nursing home. (50 from junior coaching a volleyball team, around 50 for Relay for Life, nearly 50 for the RCMA missions that Spanish National Honor Society participates in, 50 tutoring peers in calculus, and around 100 hours doing NHS or council related service events)

-I have been part of student council for 3 years of high school

-Member of the Spanish National Honor Society for 3 years

-I was captain of my high school volleyball team this year as well as the captain of all of my club teams since middle school

-Member of the science club as well as two of its competition teams 2 years

College or other post-high school plans:

I plan on attending the University of Florida to pursue a career in the medical field. As of right now, I will be majoring in biomedical engineering and participating in an invitation-only research program offered to the top 2% of applicants to UF, so I am very excited!


As a student who observes many of my classmates blatantly disregard the rules given to us by the school, it is no surprise why the solution to stemming the spread of the coronavirus has been so difficult to find. I am not a doctor, nor am I an adult, but what I know without a doubt is each person has a moral obligation to wear their mask and try their best to stay clean and distanced from others.

In a country that feeds so heavily off its economic flourishment, it is not practical to keep everyone in their homes even though that is the most ensured way to stop spreading germs. With that said, the only way to reduce the spread of something so contagious is to follow the CDC guidelines and be proactive about your health and the health of those around you. I hear so many people at school talk about how they do not believe in the virus or their parents have convinced them of blank or they read blank on the internet.

People need to step outside of themselves and truly think about the truth of the situation we are all in today. It takes less than a minute to wash your hands. It is not difficult to wear a mask, and wear it properly. If what people want is a sense of normalcy, we are going to simply stick it out and follow the rules in place to have that kind of a privilege again.

Shivani Persad

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Parliamentarian of the National Honors Society

2. Member of Senior Council

3. Member of the Spanish National Honors Society

4. Member of LEO Club (9th-10th)

5. Over 200 community service hours

6. Graduating with an AA degree from HCC

College and other post-high school plans:

I will be attending the University of South Florida to pursue a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences this Fall!


Ever since March of 2020, we have all heard different rules and guidelines that should be followed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Over a year later now, we continue to see spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases every once in a while. It can create the idea that the rules and guidelines being put out by the authorities at the federal, state and, local levels are not working as planned.

With a continuation of rules being put out that contradict one another, I believe that there should be some reevaluations. First of all, I believe that everyone should continue to wear a mask wherever they go. It is something very minuscule that everyone can do without any issues. Furthermore, the United States should change the rules for domestic flights. For example, when flying to New York, you are required to quarantine for a certain amount of time. However, when flying to Florida, quarantine procedures are not mandatory. This can cause an influx of travelers to states like Florida with no strict rules, which could potentially cause a spike in the coronavirus spread. Other safety measures that can be practiced daily, if possible, would be to avoid large gatherings and outings that would require you to remove your mask to potentially eat or drink something.

With such an unpredictable virus, we all must learn to care for ourselves and others during this time. Working on these few steps I provided could potentially slow the spread even more.

Valeria Cortes

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Valedictorian of my graduating class

2. 107 volunteer hours total

3. President of the National English Honors Society

4. President of the AVID senior class

5. Member of Students All Connected

6. Member of the National Honors Society

College or Post-High School Plans:

I will attend the University of South Florida and major in Biomedical Sciences.


The responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is not only our lawmakers’, but also our own. People must be considerate of others and do their part in keeping the global pandemic in control, including wearing a mask, staying at home as much as possible.

However, it is inevitable that there will be people who choose not to follow safety precautions, which is where authorities need to step in and enforce laws to keep the public safe. Due to the differing opinions of the public, actions such as implementing mask mandates and enforcing these mandates must be taken. In addition to this, authorities at all levels should be keeping track of the number of COVID-19 cases so that they are able to understand which communities are most severely affected by this virus. Those communities should be the ones that receive extra resources, such as COVID tests, vaccines, and surgical grade face masks for medical professionals.

Finally, social distancing should be enforced and limits should be put on the capacity of public places. By doing this, people would be able to live their normal lives and still go into their favorite places when they need to, and it would make it much easier for the people in these places to maintain a safe distance from each other so that they do not risk becoming infected with COVID-19. Due to the ever-changing nature of this pandemic, everybody must take responsibility to ensure safety and health in our society.

William K. Haxton

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Served as Senior Class Vice President and selected “Most Likely to Succeed” by my peers

2. CollegeBoard Award Winner, including National Merit Commended Scholar, AP Scholar with Distinction, and National Rural & Small Town Scholar

3. Founded a student-led calculus tutoring program at my school while also personally coordinating with our departing AP Calculus BC teacher to provide lesson plans and practice assignments to bridge the gap between losing our teacher and waiting on the district hiring process.

4. Achieved the rank of Eagle Scout following years of leadership experience and practical training, including a leadership role in a high adventure experience at Philmont Scout Ranch and planning and leading a major service project landscaping a local Title I elementary school to help promote learning to its students.

5. Active member of the Future Farmers of America Organization, participating in many state winning and national placing competition teams, such as Parliamentary Procedure and Food Science, and serving in many leadership positions, such as Chapter Vice President and District Secretary.

6. Volunteered over 130 service hours to benefit other community youth through Spanish National Honor Society – serving as the Vice President, National Honor Society, Student Council, and Future Farmers of America.

College or other post-high school plans:

Having been accepted into the Honors Program at the University of Florida, I plan to pursue the combined Bachelor’s/Master’s Degree program for mechanical or aerospace engineering in addition to a Spanish minor. During my time at UF, I also plan to complete a Study Abroad experience. Following graduation, I intend to further my education, eventually obtaining a Doctoral degree in my engineering field, as well as work for an international engineering firm overseas.


With the constant change, confusion, and contradiction in COVID-19 information and policies, Americans demand two things: clarity and a voice. I believe the approach to the pandemic should focus on more and transparent detailed research and community implementation of regionally-based regulations.

The country has become polarized over the resolution of the Coronavirus crisis. Political debate and division have resulted in disconnected organizations leading knee-jerk responses to issues as they arise. Historically, in times of crisis, the American people have demonstrated unity in recovery. Now, we need all institutions - government, businesses, mass population – to stand together and back research efforts to fight this invisible enemy. All research should be open and transparent to prevent purely reactive responses.

Additionally, the present pandemic policies do not best represent the constituents of the many different regions of the United States. A new and more complete understanding of the virus should complement giving each community the ability to institute policies based on its economic and medical situation. A more medically-focused approach in an older demographic – such as Sun City Center – will be different from a more economic stimulation approach in a younger social demographic such as the Hyde Park District. This community-level approach best balances the economy and health of the entire country.

We will see the end of this pandemic. Renewed focus on research and clarity of information while empowering communities to implement local policies will help drive unity until that end arrives.

• • •

Bodie Rice

School activities and accomplishments:

· AP Scholar with honor, then distinction (grade 10, 11, 12)

· Varsity Lacrosse All Academics Athletics (grade 9, 10, 11, 12)

· Student Government (grade 10, 11, 12-treasurer), Student Council (grade 9)

· Various Honor Societies- NHS, SNHS, NEHS, MU ALPHA THETA

· Community Service opportunities with different groups including BethEl Farmworkers Mission (monthly dinners and holiday events), New Hope Church (mission trips, community outreach with Boys Club, volunteer for Feed the Bay and VBS), local elementary schools PTSA events, Bay Area cleanups, Relay for Life

College or other post-high school plans:

University of Florida, Aerospace Engineering

• • •

Ruben Romero

School activities and accomplishments:

1) 2020-2021 Durant FBLA President

2) 2019-2020 Durant FBLA Vice President

3) AP Scholar with Distinction

4) 2021 Personal Finance FBLA district 9 winner

5) 2019 Website Design FBLA district 9 winner

6) Achieved Future, Business, and Leader level of Business Achievement Award

College or other post high school plans:

I plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science after I graduate