Gaither 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.
Gaither High School, 16200 North Dale Mabry Hwy. in north Tampa, was named for the principal who helped guide its design through its opening in 1984.
Gaither High School, 16200 North Dale Mabry Hwy. in north Tampa, was named for the principal who helped guide its design through its opening in 1984. [ DENNIS JOYCE | Times ]
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.

Alexis M. Mariash

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Graduating salutatorian with an 8.35 GPA

2. Editor-in-Chief of school paper (Staff Writer years prior)

3. Captain of the Varsity Flag Football team (Played all four years)

4. Varsity Cheer (Participated three years)

5. Three-week summer program in New York City at Columbia University studying Media and Politics

6. Final nominee for outstanding flag football player (not awarded yet)

7. Ran a political civility event with a grant from Gulf Coast Community Foundation

8. Raised over $10,000 with my own non-profit for the sea turtle conservation program at Mote Marine (pre-secondary school)

Post High School Plans:

I will be attending UC Berkeley with an intended major in business at their Haas business school. I am working to transfer into Columbia University or UPenn after my first year.


The solution for stemming the spread of Coronavirus is something that is much more abstract than lifestyle guidelines but just as important as a vaccine. Throughout the pandemic we’ve every tactic used to protect lives was hit by the exact same roadblock, misinformation. Whether it was inaccurate judgement that justified a lack of preventative measures being taken by our government or outlandish conspiracies stopping those from protecting themselves and others, this pandemic has exposed the real cost of fake information and the damage an uninformed society can cause.

Similar to other global issues, I feel the solution boils down to better education. If the government invested into news literacy programs for those both in and out of school, society can better determine what a reliable source is and how to interpret information accurately. Once there is a widespread unified expectation of how news should be, the law of supply and demand would then cause a ripple effect where people would only watch reliable, non-sensationalized news which would cause news stations to cater to that audience. This isn’t a quick fix, but a necessary one. In the meantime, technology companies need to continue to do their part by regulating false information and using their platforms to create an informative and truthful environment.

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Andy Rodriguez

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1) AP Scholar with Distinction from College board.

2) Top Wind Ensemble bassoon player in the band for 3 years.

3) 100+ service hours with Metropolitan Ministries and the Music Conservatory.

4) Leadership positions in marching band as both section leader and head quartermaster.

5) Active club member (Chemistry Club (President), Beta Club, National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, AVID Club)

6) Honor circle member ranking 9th in my class.

College or other post-high school plans:

After high school, I plan on attending the University of Florida to major in biochemistry while on a pre-med path to eventually become an anesthesiologist.


With over 31 million infected and half a million dead the United States has endured a burden that has left the entire world in similar shambles as every country has struggled to attain the goal of stopping the spread of this virus.

Throughout this exhausting year of battling such a propagating virus, we have experienced perpetual ignorance from individuals refusing to follow medical recommendations created to decelerate this contagion. One of the most effective methods being the enforced mask mandate. The selfless act of covering one’s nose and mouth in the attempt of not spreading the immensely infectious disease that is Covid-19, when done by everyone has proven to work. I wear a mask for my immunocompromised friends who may not have similar odds in surviving this illness, I wear a mask for the families who are left devastated and decaying from the financial toll that this pandemic has introduced into their lives, I wear a mask for the millions of health-care workers that sacrifice their everyday lives for the well-being of complete strangers, I wear a mask as an act of mutual respect for my fellow Americans who, like me, desire a healthy life not just for themselves but for those around them.

As we slowly begin to build immunity and return to feelings of normality, we cannot allow for our pride to outweigh the right to life that over half a million Americans have had brutally stripped away from them due to the lack of properly enforced pandemic protocols.

Camila Fernandez

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) (4 years total, President Junior and Senior year)

2. Beta Honor Society (2 years total, Vice President Senior year)

3. Key Club (2 years total, Vice President Senior year)

4. Future Medical Professionals (2 years total, Secretary Junior year)

5. National Honor Society (2 years total, Sergeant of arms Senior year)

6. Gaither Humane Society (2 years total, Historian Senior year) 7. 200+ Community service hours

College or other post-high school plans:

I am undecided about where I will attend college, nevertheless, I plan to attend a four-year university. Through university, I will be pursuing a major in Biology on a Pre-Med track. I aspire to be an Orthopedic Surgeon thus, will attend medical school after majoring in Biology. Throughout my time in college, I plan to conduct research to further my knowledge on my field of study as well as pursue medical internships.


A little over a year ago a unfadable occurrence struck the world, news headlines filled the screen about COVID-19, the word pandemic became normality. Over a year later and what people hoped would pass still grasps a hold on the daily lives of individuals and one question remains, what steps should be taken to stem the spread of the coronavirus?

With the Covid-19 vaccines making an appearance many people across the world gather at vaccination locations, a step in the right direction to combat the increasing case numbers. These vaccines consist of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While each vaccine consists of different guidelines and locations each individual should research into these to get a clear idea of which would be the best fit for them. The vaccine while a concern for some individuals has been developed and tested with a growing body of results showing that those vaccinated will develop an asymptotic infection will have a decrease in symptoms, and a decrease in their chances of spreading the virus. Nevertheless, getting the vaccine still constitutes certain measures that the unvaccinated individual also has to follow as dictated by the CDC.

Teaching about COVID in schools will also help provide students with essential knowledge on how to carry themselves through this time. While education has changed drastically through the pandemic little has changed about the knowledge that many individuals have towards it. Increasing education will lead to more cautious actions. Through these steps, the pandemic could gradually decrease.

Ciara Garza

School activities and accomplishments:

1. High school volleyball (4 years), Team Captain (1 year), and Scholar Athlete (4 years)

2. Lifelong Girl Scout member and Bronze Award recipient

3. Women’s Chorus (1 year), Concert Chorus (3 years), and Chorus Leadership team (2 years)

4. National Beta Club (4 years), Treasurer (1 year); National Honor Society (3 years), Treasurer (1 year)

5. Active participant in Best Buddies (2 years), OTVA volleyball (1 year), Tri-M Music Honor society (3 years), RxPlore Pharmacy camp at University of Pittsburgh

6. Over 300 hours volunteering in high school with organizations such as Unified Soccer, middle school volleyball, Girl Scouts, our local food pantry and church missions.

College or other post-high school plans:

To study Pre-Pharmacy at the University of Florida


COVID-19 has caused division among us all, and there are many different beliefs in the way the virus should be handled. After the extreme impact it has left on the lives of so many, a lot of United States citizens have chosen to get the vaccine to end the spread. However, many people do not have access to transportation to receive the vaccine, which is why more mobile vaccination locations are needed. If they cannot get to the vaccine, we should do everything we can to get the vaccine to them.

Another challenge to increasing the amount of people who receive the vaccine is the population’s mistrust in the government. If additional reputable medical professionals and public figures, maybe ones that are normally known to disagree on other issues, could come together and speak out in support of the vaccine, that will influence a lot more people to be pro-vaccination and limit their fears of possible side-effects.

Finally, there are still people who are unable to get the vaccine due to medical conditions, so until herd immunity is achieved, we have an obligation to do our part in protecting them. Masks should continue to be worn in indoor public places, as the bare minimum in keeping our fellow neighbors and friends out of danger. This is a global problem, that requires a global solution, which means everyone must come together and do their part in ending it.

Hannah Wehrle

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Iowa Young Writers Workshop at University of Iowa – received program certification

2. Active Member of Dance Company – Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy

3. Multiple clubs and activities including Varsity cheerleading, Yearbook Crew

4. Volunteer for Relay for Life, Hillsborough County Beach Clean Up, MOSI, and MJPAA Class Assistant Preparatory Program

5. Member of National Honor Society and The Congress for Global Good Honors Program

6. Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Inductee

College or other post-high school plans:

I plan to attend Florida State University to study Business-Marketing, with a minor in Dance. After my undergraduate degree, I plan to attend graduate school in pursuit of an MBA.

Essay Question:

“COVID is a hoax”. I heard that recently from someone who has no intention of getting vaccinated. The pandemic has become a political battle, where people adopt differing views based on political beliefs. A classic approach would be to require vaccines for public schools and all travel, require mask wearing, lock down communities. But with a nation so divided, how do we get everyone to agree?

Recall that young people were pulled out of schools and universities over a year ago. There were no football games, dances, graduation ceremonies, proms, weddings, athletic scholarship opportunities. For these young people, significant loss occurred. Experiences were stolen from them. Mental health declined.

This presents an opportunity to come at a solution from a different angle: empathy. We have nothing to lose.

Envision a “call to action event” televised nationally and led by young people from all demographics, political alliances, and geographies. The intention would be to appeal to all citizens, to ask them to put aside their differences, in order to do what is necessary to restore ‘life’. Stories around lost experiences and pleas from young people to come together unified, could be the catalyst needed to invoke empathy across the country. Young people are the future and hold the power to trigger compassion and convince the people in our nation to get vaccinated, wear masks, and social distance. Maybe if it isn’t a political leader asking, people will listen. We have nothing to lose.

James Simpson

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. 4-year varsity wrestler and 4-year varsity cross country runner

2. 3-year wrestling captain and 2-year cross country captain

3. 2020-2021 Board member for Cross Out Cancer, a non-profit organization that focuses on raising money for families with children that have cancer through fundraising and 5k fun run.

4. Wrote and produced an original musical “The Black Heart” and through production raised $3,000 for the theater program

5. Spent a summer volunteering at a summer camp that focuses on discipline, fitness, and fun in kids aged 6-12, some with learning conditions like ADHD, ADD, and Autism.

6. Founding member and 2-year president of Spikeball Club

College Plans:

I plan to attend Florida Southern College in Lakeland to study Communications.


Dr. Fauci has become one of the most famous medical doctors alive today and is possibly the most famous medical doctor of all time. He has achieved celebrity status by being a consistent source of information and from personal experience, I can say that my peers and I trust him deeply. Through his celebrity status and name recognition, he has continued to provide reliable information even after he dissociated with the federal government. The key to his influence has been his name recognition.

Heading into the next 6 months of the pandemic, I think that the government could use the sway held by celebrities to influence individuals who may be skeptical about being administered the vaccine. If I were the CDC, I would pay somewhere between 10 and 50 high-level influencers across many “genres” (gaming, fashion, sports, etc.) to get vaccinated, post their vaccine cards, and post messages across their social media encouraging their following to get vaccinated. I would create graphics explaining and diffusing many concerns people have about the vaccine. Examples would be explaining the possible long-term side effects and an explanation of how the vaccine was developed so quickly. These graphics would also be posted on the influencer’s accounts.

Whether we like it or not, these “influencers” do exactly that -- influence us. They are role models to our kids, and they are guides to teens and adults. I think that their outspokenness about getting vaccinated could improve vaccination rates and fast-track society to a return to normal.

Marijus Maksvytis

School activities and accomplishments:

  • Vice President of Future Medical Professionals (FMP)
  • 80+ Hours volunteered over the summer at James A Haley Veterans Hospital
  • 100+ Hours volunteering done at my local church (within the food bank, youth group, and summer enrichment programs)
  • Participant in a plethora of clubs ranging from Asian Culture Club to Mu Alpha Theta (Treasurer position for both)
  • Varsity Swimmer for two years (Swim Captain)

College Plans

I am pursuing an undergraduate degree at the University of Florida and plan to major in Biology.


For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of challenges for society as a whole, the obvious challenges are loss of work, financial insecurity, depression, and the strain of COVID itself. But what about the fear the pandemic has caused on society? There are people scrambling left to right, wearing masks on their faces, some two at a time, others avoiding large crowds of people and family gatherings, even people avoiding social confrontations all together out of fear of being diagnosed with the fatal virus.

The fear associated with the virus is crucially impacting society as a whole in a negative trend. Spikes in anxiety and depression are at an all-time high and the media keeps blabbering about the spikes in cases. Put everything together and you get a panic-stricken society unsure of what to do next. However, there is hope. If we want to stop the virus of fear, we need to tell people there is hope. That is most important. A kind word from a neighbor socially distanced of course can remind us that we still have time. The world is not ending, we have hope in the future. We need to take this COVID-19 pandemic and see it as a steppingstone. Not something that will bring us further from one another, but in fact closer. Until we can rid ourselves of the fear that surrounds us we cannot hope for a brighter future.

Mystique Quade

School activities and accomplishments:

· Class Valedictorian

· Over 150 hours volunteering as a peer tutor at Gaither High School

· President of National Technical Honor society, one year

· Treasurer of The Science National Honor Society, one year

· Lettered in Varsity Flag Football, One Year

· Volunteered at the local Tampa bay humane society for over 70 hours

· Volunteered at a horse farm that works with special needs students as well as worked with special needs students during special Olympics at my school

College or other post-high school plans

I plan to further my education by attending New York University (NYU) in the fall term majoring in Biology and following a Pre-Med track.


As the Coronavirus began its spread, I had felt that lockdowns should have been mandatory for more than a couple of months but, within the United States, there was a sense of freedom that many citizens felt was being removed. Although there is an unspoken idea of freedom, others’ safety should be the priority not only legally but also within society.

The reactions from both the legal and societal side represented the priorities of many, and in many cases, it was certainly not the safety of others. Since mandatory lockdowns caused such uproar between communities, the step of using masks should be mandatory everywhere. These are a way of security to protect yourself and others and prevent the further spread of such a virus. If a person does not want to wear a mask, they must at least be vaccinated. There are many careless people within society that not only put themselves at risk but even others.

With educational institutions and other forms of mass gatherings opening or already being opened, there should be a vaccination requirement to attend such masses. Schools should also be testing their students to keep the faculty as well as their peers safe and well. Along with schools, the workplace should also follow this step, especially one that faces the public. Many people do not feel safe even to get their necessities as varying mandates are being removed, which is unfair for those who care for themselves and others.

Naya Haddad

School Activities and Accomplishments

1. Honor circle, the third-ranked student in the 2021 class

2. Over 100 hours volunteering as a Senior volunteer at St. Lawrence Catholic School, Volunteer at Tampa Gymnastics and Dance, OASIS (helping cloth the needy), and weekly community events as leader of NHS and Beta.

3. President of the National Honor Society (along with community service organizer), Officer, and member for the past three years.

4. Varsity soccer for two years, Varsity tennis for one year, and Leader of my Gymnastics team for over 8 years.

5. Previous Secretary of Beta and current active member for the past four years.

6. Active member of Spanish National Honor Society and Class club for past four years.

College or other high school plans:

Biology Major, New York University


If you observe America as a whole, it is almost impossible to identify someone that has not been affected by Covid-19. According to the New York times, in Hillsborough county alone over 129,000 cases and counting have been piling up in the community. Panic has led to fast solutions, with some not as effective as others. Masks have been proven to minimize the spread and vaccines recently introduced, but the key to stemming the spread of Covid-19 is education.

Overlooking our population, many are split with opinions on the effectiveness of masks, skeptical of the vaccine, and overall fear the future. By introducing covid safety classes in schools, colleges, and workplaces, proper education regarding the spread of covid and safety can be administered to mass amounts of population. A majority of this education includes social media. According to a Ball State University study reported in the New York Times, many Americans spend over 8 hours a day on screens. By releasing informative advertisements from reliable resources (the CDC) in newspapers, magazines, and highly used apps like Snapchat and Tik Tok, our population may receive the right education it needs regarding Covid-19 to make thoughtful decisions when exposed to society.

Doing this is even more effective on younger generations, who spend additional time on social media, and are coincidentally the face of our future. Young minds are easily influenced by what they view online and releasing short videos on Tik Tok that viewers are bound to watch is a small step yet big leap towards halting Covid.

• • •

Abigail Rose Dietrich

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Student Government (Secretary, 4 years)

2. Varsity Soccer (Team Captain, 4 years)

3. Varsity Track and Field and Varsity Cross Country (2 years)

4. National Honor Society (Secretary, 3 years)

5. National Beta Club (3 years)

6. AP Scholar with Distinction

College plans:

I plan on majoring in Political Science on a pre-law track at the University of Florida.