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Hooper: One of USF's best and brightest departs, but hopefully not for good

Rhondel Whyte is one of the standouts graduating from the University of South Florida Tampa this weekend. He started in Trinidad and Tobago, but now is devoted to Tampa.
Published May 4, 2016

The Tampa Organization of Black Affairs' annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast begins at 6:45 a.m. each and every year.

The group chooses the early-morning time as a reminder to all that we once did not recognize the third Monday in January as the King Holiday. When the breakfast began in 1978, the event had to begin early because people needed to go to work.

As a consequence, you don't find many young people at the breakfast. My 14-year-old daughter chuckles when asked to attend, and then rolls over and goes back to sleep.

At the 2015 breakfast, however, a young man sat at our table — and not only did he appear to be wide awake, he was also engaging.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and University of South Florida student Rhondel Whyte did just that. His mere attendance reflected a drive, and the more I inquired, the more I learned he truly is on the path to success.

I've stayed in contact with Whyte, largely through Facebook, and as he prepares to graduate with an engineering degree on Saturday, I continue to marvel at his achievements.

Last month, Whyte received two honors from USF: the "Golden Bull Award" goes to select undergraduate and graduate students — 19 this semester — who encompass the spirit of USF and have epitomized its values. Recipients must exemplify exceptional academic achievement, leadership, and service to the university and the community.

"There were over 160 applicants and I was blessed enough to be chosen," Whyte said.

Whyte — unexpectedly, he says — also received the "Leadership Legacy" award, which recognizes a student leader whose long-term dedication and commitment have made a positive impact on sustaining the visibility of a student organization. The USF Ambassadors, a group of students who promote the university, nominated Whyte.

What has he done to promote the university? Well, for starters, he partnered with fellow student Daniel Mall to create an app to help students save money. Borrow'd lets students rent out or sell their textbooks to other students on campus at a more favorable rate than what bookstores offer.

How well has it worked?

"We actually just expanded to the University of Michigan," Whyte said. "(We're) looking at expanding to more schools as the year progresses."

Meanwhile, Whyte plans to move to New York after graduation to work for Deloitte as a consultant in the cyber security practice. And for a minute, I think he's another promising young professional we're losing to another city.

But only for a minute.

"I'm hoping to make an impact there in the way I have here in Tampa," Whyte said. "But I always want to have roots planted here in Tampa since it's the city that made me into the man I am today.

"I love this city too much to not be a part of it and its growth."

Whyte is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, but it appears Tampa has won him over. In the future, it may prove to be one of our biggest victories.

That's all I'm saying.

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