Sickles 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.
Sickles High School, 7950 Gunn Hwy., opened in 1997. The school mascot is the gryphon.
Sickles High School, 7950 Gunn Hwy., opened in 1997. The school mascot is the gryphon. [ 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.

Emma Couto

School Activities and accomplishments:

1. 4.0 unweighted GPA with multiple AP and Honor courses per year

2. Participated in multiple Honor Societies including: National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and Thespians Honor Society.

3. Vice President and Treasurer of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes)

4. Participated in multiple state competitions for Mu Alpha Theta

5. Competed on Varsity swim team for 4 years making it to districts

6. Received superior in costume design for 3 years at Thespian IE’s

7. Volunteered over 200 hours during High School at locations consisting of: Horse Power for Kids, Metropolitan Ministries, Feeding Tampa Bay, Carrollwood Cultural Center, Everly’s Angels Foundation

8. Gave speeches at both Tropicana and Relay for Life to raise awareness and share personal experience about the battle against Cancer

9. Certified in InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator and currently working as a Graphic Designer

College or other post-high school plans:

I plan to attend McGill University in the Faculty of Management pursuing undergraduate studies in either Finance or Marketing.

Essay question:

We need continued strong leadership and ensure updated information is released to the public in a consistent manner. The federal government should be active in the vaccine rollout and should establish minimum requirements that all states require masks indoors and places of business until the infection rate is under control.

The message should be that wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is not only protect yourself but those around you as well. Rural areas should get the same amount of information and education as urban areas in order to avoid more outbreaks. To instill confidence in the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, the federal government needs to continue sharing updates on the duration of efficacy. The vaccinations need to get final FDA approval as soon as possible to alleviate concerns on its safety. We should work towards getting the under 18 vaccinated as soon as it’s accessible given they account for 22% of the population.

Until we reach herd immunity all citizens need to continue to be cautious about social gatherings and wear masks. State and local government should have a committee where they meet on a regular basis to share and communicate updated guidelines, local needs, or hotspot areas to ensure that the message is consistent across its population. Pharmaceuticals should continue to research the need for booster shots similar to having an annual flu shot. All of these policies will assist our future goals of returning back to normal and decrease the spread of future mutations.

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Haley Vandall

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Valedictorian, beat school record of 8.24 with a 9.67 GPA

2. Vice President of Student Government, member for four year

3. Varsity Lacrosse Team, four years

4. Vice President of Key Club, member for three years

5. 110 Community Service Hours, lead year-long service project for the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital (raised money for them with monthly fundraisers, organized monthly visits, created high quality video promoting the hospital), lead year-long service project with Humane Society (launched Dog of the Week campaign within school, led fundraisers and monthly visits), volunteered at Middle School next to ours for four years

6. Secretary of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, member for four years

7. District Winner in FBLA competition, member for four years

College or other post-high school plans:

Major in Political Science before going to law school to pursue a career in government/politics. Was accepted into University of Virginia and am awaiting decisions from Harvard, Georgetown, NYU, and Yale, but will likely have to stay in state due to financial reasons.


This past year has shown us what does and does not work in the fight against COVID. Many of the solutions put into place cannot function unless we as a society are willing to put others first, but the sad reality is that- when left to their own devices- humans can’t be trusted to be selfless. Things won’t get better without an increase in regulations, which is why I believe the solution to stemming the spread of COVID-19 lies within the vaccinations.

I propose that we require vaccinations for entry into non-essential, high-risk areas. Locations like bars, airports, and restaurants won’t be accessible to non-vaccinated citizens, encouraging vaccinations while simultaneously reducing spread in these hot spots. This approach has already been implemented in New York locations like Madison Square Garden and is yielding results.

A simple yet effective method to do this is through wristbands. When citizens get vaccinated, they can be given a scannable wristband validating it. This way, no one can fake their vaccinations, and proving them will be both simple and convenient.

Many people refuse to take the COVID vaccine, so let them. Those avoiding it from fear of COVID should be avoiding high-risk areas anyways, so it wouldn’t affect them. However, for many, when it becomes a choice between getting a vaccine and getting their pre-COVID lives back, I think that we’ll start to see where priorities truly lie. While this alone cannot stop COVID, I believe that it will help to stem its spread.

Isabella Kelly

School activities and accomplishments:

  • Top six student
  • Four year varsity lacrosse player
  • President of Key Club (community service club)
  • 7.4628 weighted GPA
  • Employee at Discovery Senior Living Facility
  • National Honor Society member

College or other post-high school plans:

Statistics major, University of Florida


I believe that as individuals, we all can take certain steps that if everyone takes responsibility for, we can stem the spread of the coronavirus. If we all take action, this problem will go away. Some crucial steps are wearing your mask when you go out and not gathering in large groups. I am aware that many people do follow these rules (myself included).

However, it will never be effective until everyone takes responsibility and follows their moral obligation in society to stop the spread. The people not willing to do this have a closed mind when in reality there are many things they can do to make following these rules not as difficult. For example, I am president of a community service club at my school. I also work at a retirement home where there are strict covid restrictions. I love being around the elderly and feel badly when they are so restricted due to the virus.

So, I set up a volunteering opportunity for my club members to make cards for the residents at the retirement home I work at. When I dropped off the letters, I heard back from the care staff immediately saying how grateful the residents were and how it made everyones day. This is just one example of how I overcame obstacles that this pandemic has created. If everyone takes responsibility for themselves, this virus will end.

Joseph Brian Benjamin

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Salutatorian: 8.04 Weighted GPA (16 AP courses, 8 Dual Enrollment), Seal of Biliteracy, AP Capstone Diploma, National AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Distinction

2. Wind Ensemble and Marching Band (4 years): Trombone section leader, All County Honor Band, and Tri-M Music Honor Society volunteer

3. National Honor Society Membership Vice President, managed standing of 300+ club members and organized virtual events

4. USY Youth Group (4 years): Tampa chapter president (2 years) and Regional Social Action Board Chair (2 years)

5. Retirement Home Dining Room Server (40 hours/week April-August 2020, 20 hours/week otherwise; March 2020 – Present)

6. VISTA Gardens Volunteer (2 years)

College plans: University of Florida, major: Sustainability and the Built Environment


Mixed messaging from media sources creates disinformation in a way analogous to the spread of the virus – it is deadly and difficult to track. The threat that COVID-19 poses to both individuals and communities has often been downplayed, such as being compared to the flu. However, a mortality rate currently fourteen times greater indicates that the virus is nothing to scoff at. A robust national campaign to prevent this disinformation is necessary to increase cooperation with policy established at all levels of government.

A Pew Research Center Survey taken in June, months after the United States began to acknowledge the severe threat that COVID-19 poses, found that 38% of Americans believed that the outbreak has been overblown. At the same time, trust in news media and government sources dropped over the course of 2020, likely due to inconsistent messaging between sources at any given time.

To mitigate viral spread, people must have an easily accessible, central source of transparent information regarding COVID-19 This is easier said than done, requiring bipartisan cooperation across all levels of government, credible scientific research, and non-biased interpretation of raw data that is easy to understand. However, it must be a prioritized first step, given that COVID-related policy can be difficult to enforce without an educated populous that understands the ramifications of their actions on public health.

Paige Flood

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Orchestra Leadership: Librarian (10th and 11th grade), Apprentice (11th grade), and President (12th grade).

2. Orchestra Concertmaster.

3. Tri-M (Music Honors Society): Secretary (11th grade) and Vice President (12th grade).

4. Mu Alpha Theta (Math Honors Society): Algebra Team Leader (10th grade) and Secretary/Historian (11th grade).

5. Sickles Tennis Captain.

6. AP Scholar with Distinction.

7. Adobe Premier Certified.

8. Over 50 hours volunteering at summer camps for children (specifically ages 2-5).

9. 5 hours volunteering at the Humane Society.

10. 5 hours volunteering at Feeding Tampa Bay.

11. 100+ hours volunteering with teachers and at concerts.

College or Other Post-High School Plans:

Pre-medical course of study, Florida State University

After Florida State University, I would like to study dentistry or orthodontics in medical school.


We can accomplish more together rather than alone. In this pandemic, many people have their own opinions as to how the pandemic can be stopped. However, when each person is trying to execute their own idea, chaos can ensue. I believe that unity is the key to stemming the spread of the virus but to have unity, there needs to be consistency; therefore, the CDC guidelines should be followed by every state and county.

Furthermore, the CDC guidelines should be more explicit as to what everyone is supposed to do to stay safe by posting the guidelines and sending out emails/texts to everyone. My personal belief is that everyone should be vaccinated so that we can eliminate the risk of the virus and return to some resemblance of normalcy.

Shreyas Kallimath

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Varsity Athlete on the Football Team, three years. 2019 Varsity Scout Team Player of the Year.

2. AFJROTC Operations Squadron Commander, Drill Team Commander, and member for 4 years. Received National Air Force Sergeant’s Award, Outstanding Cadet Ribbon/Award, Outstanding Leadership Ribbon/Award, and Outstanding Cadet Ribbon/Award, American Legion Scholastic Achievement Award, and Order of the Daedalians Award.

3. AFJROTC Drill Team Commander/Member - 1st Place Melbourne Drill Meet (17-18), 2nd Place Melbourne Drill Meet (19-20), 3rd Place Melbourne Drill Meet (20-21).

4. National Honors Society member and Interact – Rotary Club Service Club member. Accumulated over 100 community service hours through both clubs.

5. Ranked 13/589 students in our class.

College Plans:

I will be attending the United States Air Force Academy for Astronautics/Aeronautics.


As we pass the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic’s “debut” in the United States, we can look back on the major impact on our social, economic, and day-to-day lifestyles. An entirely new challenge for our generations in the 21st century, the pandemic proved our unpreparedness and volatility to such major incidents. The entire mitigation process was extremely challenging, and it took the cooperation of the entire world to bring infection to a minimum.

If I was in charge of the pandemic response team, I would take drastic steps to combat the pandemic during its initial stages, before the disease could take a major hold on the country. I would immediately enforce a circumstantial nationwide lockdown excluding essential workers, to keep human interaction and spread rate to a minimum. The lockdown would be partial, as the lockdown severity would be dependent on an area’s population density, concentration, and human traffic throughout the area. I would also enforce a nationwide mask mandate, which would not be dependent on the area’s population, as it is a less severe and limiting precaution. All national borders would also be closed. Economically, I would prioritize economic relief for temporarily unemployed citizens and subsidies for rapid research and vaccine development.

For the citizens, I would encourage states to exempt taxes for a short period of time. Stimulus packages and other such financial supplements would also be given to the citizens. The government would also promote the research for a vaccine and supplement that financially as well to help provide the nation with a defense against the virus. I understand this would be a lot to ask of the nation, but this major sacrifice would help relieve us of the pandemic’s limitations and danger as soon as possible, allowing for a swift recovery to a normal life.

Valerie Muzyka

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Founded “Not I, But We”, a student-led teen advocacy group for mental health awareness; Collaborated with Hillsborough County School District Student Services team to recruit members from nearly all Hillsborough County public high schools.

2. Student Government Association School President (2020-2021), Vice President (2019-2020)

3. Ambassador, Area Delegate, and Member (2010-2021) of Girl Scouts of West Central Florida; Make law and policy changes promoting diversity, organize and lead annual Encampments (5 years), Gold Award (in progress), Bronze Award recipient

4. Congress of Future Medical Leaders Award of Excellence; Attended three-day congress in Boston to learn about the medical field from highly-esteemed, accomplished professionals in various concentrations of science.

5. Captain of JV Volleyball for high school team, two years; Varsity player for high school team, one year

6. Athena Society Dr. Sylvia Richardson Young Woman of Promise Award Recipient for excellence in demonstrated leadership in the community and commitment to promoting opportunities and equality for all women.

College or other post-high school plans:

Pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Public Policy at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.


A team is only as strong as their weakest link. Over the past year, I have seen firsthand how this saying not only applies to team in the traditional sense, but also to our world in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the rollout of vaccines providing hope for curbing the spread of coronavirus, our current “weakest link” is the lack of vaccine distribution to less-developed countries.

As of February 2021, approximately 130 low to middle-income countries had not begun vaccinating. Furthermore, those vaccines that are available to these countries has significantly lower efficacy than vaccines including Pfizer and Moderna with which more developed countries have more readily available. I believe that on top of social distancing and mask wearing protocols currently in place, equal opportunity for countries to receive vaccines of comparable efficacy in an appropriate amount given their population is necessary. While waiting for vaccination efforts to become more equitable, the lack of discipline regarding international travel must be addressed.

Realistically, until heard immunity is reached with 70% of people being vaccinated, travel between countries must be limited to extenuating circumstances. This will diminish global spread of coronavirus and contain new strains that develop to that respective country. As it is currently, a new strain that developed in the UK is now the most prominent strain of COVID-19 within the United States. By limiting international travel, situations like these will not occur and each country may instead focus on what coronavirus relief looks like to them.

• • •

Anna Martin

School Activities and Accomplishments

1. Top 4 Student, 4.0 unweighted GPA

3. National Honor Society Chairperson, Member of Math Honor Society

4. Over 200 Service Hours

5. Varsity Cheerleading for three years

6. Summer VolunTEEN program at Moffitt Cancer Center

7. SpeakUp 5k Ambassador for the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation

8. Mort Elementary tutor for the FCAT Math Surge Program

College Plans:

Attending University of Florida

Avery Guise

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Varsity sideline cheerleader for three years

2. Competitive cheerleader for the school for two years, won state title in 2021

3. Student government executive board member, Senior Class Historian

4. National Honor Society for three years

5. Part-time job at a pediatric therapy office

6. AP Scholar with Honor (2019), AP Scholar with Distinction (2020), AP Capstone Diploma (2020)

College or Post High School Plans:

University of Florida, chemical engineering

Justin Greenberg

School activities and accomplishments:

National Merit Finalist, Varsity Soccer Captain, Benacquisto Scholarship Recipient, NHS member, 4.0 unweighted and 7.12 weighted GPA, 1570 SAT score

College or other post-high school plans:

University of Florida, majoring in Animal Biology with the intent of becoming a Veterinarian

Kaitlin Crivello

Nearly 200 of Hillsborough County's top high school seniors from more than 35 public and private schools accepted an invitation to share their accomplishments and plans through the 2020 R.F. "Red" Pittman Tribune Scholars program. Most of them also entered essays in the program scholarship competition.
Nearly 200 of Hillsborough County's top high school seniors from more than 35 public and private schools accepted an invitation to share their accomplishments and plans through the 2020 R.F. "Red" Pittman Tribune Scholars program. Most of them also entered essays in the program scholarship competition. [ Handout ]

School Activities and Accomplishments:

1. Graduating 3rd in my class with a final weighted GPA of 7.84

2. Officer of the National Honor Society, Key Club, AVID, and Future Business Leader of America

3. Completed a total of 220 community service hours throughout high school

4. Participated in Girl’s Flag Football for four years

College or other post-high school plans:

Attending the University of Florida to pursue a career in the medical field.

Rachel Howard

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Published research paper about “The Influence of the FFA on the Cognitive Dissonance of the Meat Paradox” in the high school edition of the Journal of Student Research

2. Parliamentarian of the National Honor Society (NHS)

3. Was the Historian and Reporter for the Future Farmers of America (FFA)

4. Mu Alpha Theta Member

5. Volunteer at Suncoast Kids Place, a grief center for children and parents.

6. Rank 11 in my senior class

College or other post-high school plans:

I plan to major in Psychology at the University of Florida.

Victoria Lahey

School activities and accomplishments:

1. Band captain and trumpet section leader

2. NHS Parliamentarian

3. Mu Alpha Theta - Vice President, Leader of Algebra 2 & Statistics Team

4. 121 assorted volunteer hours

5. Selected to participate in All County Band (3 years)

6. Member of Friendship Club, a club to help special needs students at our school (3 years)

College or other post-high school plans:

Biology Major with the goal of becoming a pediatrician. College is undecided.