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  • Top scholars: Palm Harbor University High School


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    Top scholars: Palm Harbor University High School

    These students have the highest grade point averages, but it doesn't stop there. Community service, extra activities and ambitious goals make the Class of 2002 valedictorians and salutatorians the Best of the Best.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    Palm Harbor University High School valedictorians Fraser Wright, left, Steven Lansel, center, and Sally Velez-Guzman have worked hard to overcome countless obstacles to finish their high school careers at the top of their classes.

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 28, 2002

    International Baccalaureate Valedictorian: Steven Lansel

    PLANS: To major in engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, or Princeton University, New Jersey

    HONORS AND AWARDS: Mu Alpha Theta National Convention Ninth Place Overall Calculus Student, Mu Alpha Theta State Statistics Champion, Georgia Tech Presidential Scholarship, Illinois Institute of Technology Camras/Next Scholarship

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Chess Club, Mu Alpha Theta president and chief executive of Mighty Mu competition, co-founder of Physics Club

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Curlew Creek Elementary chess club volunteer, after-school tutor, Ruth Eckerd Hall usher

    FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Studying, practicing and competing in dozens of Mu Alpha Theta competitions throughout the state and nation.


    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: Math teacher, Renee Fish. She cares a lot about the students and is a great friend.

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Hard work, intelligence, and support from my family, friends and teachers.

    OBSTACLE I'VE OVERCOME: Was accepted to the IB program, but was put on a waiting list because there were too few spaces available. Catching up was a challenge.

    PARENTS: Richard and Gabriella Lansel of Safety Harbor

    Crunching numbers at math tournaments is Steve Lansel's idea of a good time.

    He doesn't consider himself a competitive person because he enjoys challenging himself. "If my competition is good, I don't mind losing," he said.

    Lansel, 17, wants to inspire youngsters to like math as much as he does. So he gets a kick out of planning math competitions for elementary and middle school kids. "It's really cool because all the kids get all excited and they do high fives," he said. "When I was a little kid. I wish I did stuff like that."

    Lansel, who is leaning toward a career in electrical engineering, also has a silly side.

    He collects toys, records and hat pins from his favorite movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It began with a childhood fascination with candy, but it developed into an appreciation of the movie's symbolism and goofy characters, he said.

    * * *

    Center for Wellness and Medical Professions Valedictorian: Fraser Wright

    PLANS: Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

    HONORS AND AWARDS: Science and social studies department awards

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Honor Society

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Mease Countryside Hospital emergency room


    FAVORITE SUBJECT: History, because our past has shaped the present and can aid in foreseeing the future.

    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: Jack Nicklaus, "the great concentrator"

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I simply do not like doing less than what I am capable of achieving and strive to do the best that I can when a task is assigned to me.


    PARENTS: Richard and Deborah Wright of Dunedin

    Even though Fraser Wright's in the medical magnet program, he's not planning on being a doctor. Volunteer work at the emergency room at Mease Countryside Hospital taught him that he's "not one for cleaning up bodily fluids."

    "It was really interesting," he said, "but I didn't see it as something I could do for a living."

    A big Tom Clancy fan, Wright, 17, might consider another path entirely.

    "I'd love to be in the CIA," he said. "I think its the coolest thing in the world."

    Wright considers himself shy by nature. His freshman year he just went to school and came straight home every day. But an outgoing friend helped him to open up.

    For a vacation from school stress, Wright swings a golf club most days after school.

    "I like the fact that it lets me go away from everything," he said. "I don't think about the pressures of college and school and everything."

    * * *

    VALEDICTORIAN: Sally Velez-Guzman

    PLANS: To major in biology at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.

    HONORS AND AWARDS: National Hispanic Scholar, Princeton Alumni of the Suncoast Book Award

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Literary magazine, Quill and Scroll, Youth in Government, Principal's Student Advisory Committee

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital

    FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Literary magazine


    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My grandfather.

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: My background.

    OBSTACLE I'VE OVERCOME: The language barrier.

    PARENTS: Ivan Velez-Cay and Sally Guzman-Velez of Palm Harbor

    Sally Velez-Guzman got hooked on biology at a young age. As a youngster in Panama, her grandfather, who runs a medical laboratory, noticed her budding curiosity and he nurtured it little by little. It began, with microscopic examinations of blood under a microscope. And it evolved to field trips to the butcher, where they collected leftover organs, which they eagerly dissected at her grandfather's lab.

    She's also a vegetarian.

    She was 5 or 6 when her family came to America. Her family spent time in Oklahoma and Massachusetts before settling here.

    "I was so upset when I came here, I didn't speak at all for three months," Velez, 17, said.

    She didn't know English, but soon learned with the help of her favorite cartoon series Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers.

    Last summer, she participated in the University of Florida's Student Science Training Program. She partnered with a professor who was studying nematology and entomology (worms and insects). Her first impression of the staff was: "Wow, they are a little too into their nematodes!" But their enthusiasm was contagious, she said.

    Today Velez-Guzman isn't sure exactly what she wants to do with her passion for science, but she's seriously considering pursuing a Ph.D and becoming a professor one day.

    "It would keep me in that atmosphere of academia. I'm one of those people that would never want to leave school," she said.

    International Baccalaureate Salutatorian: Jessica Irene Cornett

    PLANS: To major in biochemistry and Italian at Tulane Unversity, New Orleans, the University of Miami or Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society vice president, Mu Alpha Theta, Physics Club secretary, swim team, recreation soccer and softball, track team, flag football team, Ultimate Frisbee tournament, Student Government Association

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Hope for Tomorrow award, American Cancer Society's Relay for Life volunteer, team captain and youth co-chair for the Tarpon Springs Relay for Life

    FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Ultimate Frisbee, running and collecting soda can tabs since sixth grade

    FAVORITE TOPIC: I love studying optics in physics class because no matter how much I understand exactly why the sun sets into a perfect spectrum and then rises after we actually see it rise, I never stop wondering at the marvel of existence. It's like I have a secret with the universe.

    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: All classmates, especially Lauren Murphy and Lowrie Ward

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I have been blessed with the best teachers in the entire world, in my opinion.

    PARENTS: Stan and Joan Cornett of Palm Harbor

    International Baccalaureate Salutatorian: Adam Bernheim

    PLANS: To major in biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

    HONORS AND AWARDS: Chemistry department award, National Merit Commended

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Academic Team

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Volunteer for Joslin Diabetes Center at Mease Countryside Hospital

    FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Tennis, competitive and recreational


    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: Mr. McGonegal and Mr. Dull as they allowed me to recognize a potential career in science.

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Commitment and dedication.

    OBSTACLE I'VE OVERCOME: Hard work in the IB program.

    PARENTS: Richard and Suzanne Bernheim of Palm Harbor

    International Baccalaureate Salutatorian: Katy Mae Lawrence

    PLANS: To major in veterinary medicine at the University of Florida

    HONORS AND AWARDS: Bright Futures Scholarship

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Honor Society, Spanish Club

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Raised a dog for Southeastern Guide Dogs, worked with handicapped adults who rode horses for physical therapy.

    FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Riding my horse.


    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My horse. He is always there for me, giving me all of his love. He tries so hard to please me and he shows no ill will toward anybody. I strive to be as forgiving and thankful as he is.

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Study and hard work

    OBSTACLE I'VE OVERCOME: The death of my aunt. I moved on in my life and worked harder so as not to disappoint her.

    PARENTS: Michael and Carbee Lawrence

    International Baccalaureate Salutatorian: Pavani Yalla

    PLANS: University of Florida

    HONORS AND AWARDS: National Merit Finalist, Bright Futures Scholarship, French Achievement Award

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, French Honor Society, French Club, Physics Club

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Volunteer for Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.



    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: Colin Powell, for proving to the American people that minorities can attain any position based on their merit (not hindered by race).

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Not only self-motivation but also the positive influence and guidance of my family and teachers.

    OBSTACLE I'VE OVERCOME: Switching schools in the middle of high school, fitting in and adjusting to my new life was at first a challenge.

    PARENTS: Dr. Murty and Mrs. Bhavani Yalla of Palm Harbor

    Center for Wellness and Medical Professions Salutatorian: Damian Oslebo

    PLANS: To major in systems engineering at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.

    HONORS AND AWARDS: Vice presidential nomination to the naval academy, departmental awards for best math and social studies student, varsity letter wrestler, AP Scholar Award, National AP Scholar with Distinction, fourth in state for Health Occupations Students of America Medical Math event, third in state Health Occupations Students of America Dental Terminology event.

    ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, French Honor Society, Economic Quiz Bowl Team member and captain, Health Occupations Students of America, wrestling, geometry test writer for Mighty Mu competition of middle School students, Medical Senior Celebration Committee

    COMMUNITY SERVICE: Volunteer food and nutrition area of Mease Countryside Hospital, Safety Harbor, Mathematics tutor, Hepatitis C research at the Tampa Bay Research Institute, Blood donor (every two months), Students Teach Students member

    FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Watching 24, the greatest show on television ever.

    FAVORITE SUBJECT: Dental, because Dr. Applebaum is the man.

    HERO OR ROLE MODEL: Arnold from Commando, because he destroyed an entire private army without breaking a sweat.

    THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: The axiom "Nice guys finish last" is wrong. Be a nice guy and the karma will do the rest.

    OBSTACLE I'VE OVERCOME: Getting into the Naval Academy. It took a combination of academics and athletics.

    PARENTS: Alan Powell and Norma Jean Summers of Palm Harbor

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