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Local top graduates

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 5, 2002

ADMIRAL FARRAGUT ACADEMY

VALEDICTORIAN: George A. Hooker

PLANS: To major in premed at the University of Florida

HONORS AND AWARDS: Naval Science Distinguished Cadet, U.S. History Award, Who's Who Among American High School Students, Bright Futures Scholar

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Key Club, varsity basketball

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Key Club projects including Christmas Toy Shop, Science Center and Pumpkin Patch

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Hanging out with my friends

FAVORITE SUBJECT: Science

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My dad, because he is knowledgeable in many subjects, has a great sense of humor and is a great guy in the respect that he is always fair and honest

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I've done well in school through a good work ethic and perseverance.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: Skipping two grades and therefore adapting to being with people older than me

PARENTS: Gina and George Hooker of Largo

* * *

It doesn't bother George Hooker that he may be the youngest freshman at the University of Florida this fall. The 15-year-old has been at least two years younger than his classmates since elementary school when he skipped second and fifth grades.

"It was a big deal in middle school," he said, explaining that he never had problems academically, but that maturity was an issue when he was a 9-year-old in a class of 12-year-olds. On the positive side, he was never bored.

"I didn't have to go through stuff that was too easy," he said. "I was more challenged."

Always ahead of his peers, he fell in love with science when he was 8. Summers spent at the Science Center nurtured his interest in biology and led to his decision to become a doctor. He figures he has got time before he has to choose between medical research or private practice.

George credits his years at a military academy for teaching him leadership and how to work with others.

"No matter how smart you are, if you can't deal with people, it won't help you that much," he said.

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Jonathan Andrew Hirsch

PLANS: To attend the University of Florida; major is undecided

HONORS AND AWARDS: National Junior Honor Society, National Honor Society, Headmaster's List, varsity football captain

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: Key Club, varsity football

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Key Club, Christmas Toy Shop, Camp Jenny for underprivileged youth, National Federation of Temple Youth Southern Tropical Region membership vice president

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Working at Camp Jenny

FAVORITE SUBJECT: English

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: I have no one hero or model. Instead, I try to emulate the good traits I see in my friends, teachers and family.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Most of the teachers at my school aren't there to simply work, but to actually teach the students.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: When I was in third grade, I couldn't read, even at first-grade level. My parents made me read every day, and I can't thank them enough for that.

PARENTS: Elissa and Terry Hirsch of Seminole

* * *

CANTERBURY SCHOOL OF FLORIDA

VALEDICTORIAN: Emily Allison Tilghman Earle

PLANS: To major in premed at the University of Illinois

HONORS AND AWARDS: Four-year athletic scholarship to University of Illinois, Headmaster's Award, Bright Futures Scholar, voted "Most Spirited" in senior class, 2002 Rotary Youth Award, Canterbury School of Florida 2002 Athlete of the Year, four-time USAG Level 10 regional championships qualifier, three-time USAG Level 10 national championships qualifier, member 1998 Junior Olympic national championships first-place team, member 1998 Florida state team champions, 1999 Level 10 state vault champion, member 2001 Florida state team champions, 2002 National Association Women's Gymnastics Judges Award, Outstanding Senior Gymnast Award for Leadership

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society co-president, Spanish National Honor Society, student council representative, homecoming court representative

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Volunteer gymnastics instructor for children, Vacation Bible School volunteer at St. Peter's Cathedral

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Gymnastics and hanging out with my friends

FAVORITE SUBJECTS: Literature and photography

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: I really look up to and respect my parents and how they have raised me. They have had a major influence on my becoming the person I am today.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I have done well in school due to my own determination and self-motivation. My grades have always been very important to me, in part because my parents raised me to care a lot about school.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: I overcame a very serious knee injury in gymnastics, which had the capability to end my athletic career. However, I pushed myself to forge through the hard times and now have the amazing opportunity to attend college on a full scholarship.

PARENTS: Suzanne and James Earle of St. Petersburg

* * *

Emily Allison Tilghman Earle's fascination with gymnastics began when she was 3 years old. Watching her older sister twirl and tumble, she wondered what it would be like to fly through the air and always land on her feet.

Fifteen years later, she knows what it feels like to fly, and what if feels like to fall. Besides a mountain of trophies and a four-year athletic scholarship, Emily, 18, has a "lifetime of injuries" from her sport, including a severe knee fracture suffered in 1999.

The injuries, she says, are "just something else I had to deal with." Her love of gymnastics and the support of her teammates and coaches kept her going even though there were "tons of times" when she thought about quitting.

She will continue gymnastics at the University of Illinois but plans to pursue a career in obstetrics with the same determination.

"If you can be dedicated to one thing, you can decide to be dedicated to something else," she said.

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Aaron Steven Bubley

PLANS: To attend the University of Miami; major undecided

HONORS AND AWARDS: Merrick Alumni Scholarship, Bright Futures Scholar, P. Michael Davis Award

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society co-president, Leadership Committee

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, CASA

FAVORITE SUBJECT: Senior Seminar

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My father, because he is a successful and good-hearted man

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I've done well in school because I was raised to put school first.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: I went through a lot to get where I am, but I'd rather not speak about it.

PARENTS: Christine and Michael Bubley

* * *

FIRST BAPTIST CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

VALEDICTORIAN: Keri-Lyn Nutt

PLANS: To major in forensic science at St. Petersburg College

HONORS AND AWARDS: Eagle Award, Who's Who Among American High School Students, merit awards for science, math and English

ACTIVITIES: Volleyball, yearbook, teacher's aide

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Little League baseball concession stand volunteer

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Playing volleyball or just goofing off with my friends

FAVORITE SUBJECT: English

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My mother, because she is a single parent who has had struggles but is still doing an absolutely fabulous job being both parents in one

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: My friends, family and teachers have always been behind me and pushed me to do my best ever since I was very young.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: Coming from a single-parent family has given me a more responsible attitude. Going through struggles of a tight money situation has made me see real life at a young age.

PARENT: Darlene Lauer of St. Petersburg

* * *

Keri-Lyn Nutt is convinced there's no better way to have a good time than to "go muddin'."

After a good rain, she and her friends pile into a pickup truck and search for mud puddles to plow through. She insists the "sport" is not dangerous.

"We make sure it's safe," she said. "We don't stand up in the back of the truck, and we don't go too fast. It's just about having fun and getting dirty."

An all-around outdoorswoman, Keri-Lyn, 17, also enjoys camping. She and her friends like spending weekends at Lithia Springs in Brandon or biking and trail walking at Fort De Soto Park.

Her adventuresome nature -- and the television show CSI -- led to her decision to major in forensic science. She can't wait to join a police or sheriff's department and start examining evidence to find out how a crime was committed.

In the meantime, she says she's ready for the challenge of college.

"The horror stories people are telling about college don't scare me," she said. "I'm eager to go."

* * *

VALEDICTORIAN: Andrew David Watkins

PLANS: To major in engineering at the University of South Florida

HONORS AND AWARDS: St. Petersburg College and University of South Florida scholarship offers, acceptance into USF honors program and USF engineering department

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: Earned 32 college credits as a dually enrolled student at St. Petersburg College

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Mission volunteer with a deaf community in Jamaica, Clearview United Methodist Church volunteer

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Computerized graphic design

FAVORITE SUBJECT: Science

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: Mr. Onizuka, a character in the movie Great Teacher Onizuka. He has a great sense of style and justice and is a great teacher.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Natural talent and photographic memory

PARENTS: Diane and Jim Watkins

* * *

Andrew David Watkins has always been interested in helping people. That's why he jumped at the chance to go to Jamaica with 17 other teenagers from his church group.

With only a rudimentary knowledge of American Sign Language, they helped a deaf community rebuild a retaining wall damaged in a landslide.

A similar desire to be helpful is at the root of his desire to build robots that will assist with household chores such as vacuuming or dish washing. He expects his longtime interest in computer graphics and filmmaking will enhance his career as a mechanical engineer.

After 17 years at home, he's looking forward to being independent, although he is steeling himself for the shock of being on a large campus.

"First Baptist is a small school, and I've known everybody from kindergarten through high school," he said. "USF is a much bigger community. There's no way I could know everybody."

* * *

KESWICK CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

VALEDICTORIAN: Kevin Andrew McClure

PLANS: To major in business administration at the University of Florida

HONORS AND AWARDS: Bright Futures Scholar, National Merit Commended Scholar, All-Conference football selection

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, varsity football captain, basketball captain, baseball team

COMMUNITY SERVICE: YMCA and summer church camp volunteer, Habitat for Humanity

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Football

FAVORITE SUBJECT: Math

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My parents. They've done a good job. They've helped me and have encouraged me to be the best I can be.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I realize that this is my life. I only have one chance, so I don't want to mess up and regret who I could have been for the rest of my life. This motivates me to work hard.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: The long commute to school.

PARENTS: Judy and Richard McClure of Palm Harbor

* * *

Kevin Andrew McClure had a commitment to Keswick Christian. To prove it, he traveled more than 50,000 miles in five years just to get there from his home in Palm Harbor.

"It wears on you, but you get used to it," he said. "I like the school and I like the kids, so I make the trip."

For the past few years, he made the 60-mile round trip with his younger brother, Andrew. Having someone to talk and joke with made it more bearable, he said, but getting up at 6 a.m. and not getting home until 7 p.m. made for a long day.

One of the high points of his school career, he said, was being captain of the football team. It also made him attractive to Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, but his desire to concentrate on academics and to stay closer to home made him choose the University of Florida and a planned major in business administration.

"I like what my dad does," he said, explaining that his father is a director of Campbell Soup Company. "There are a lot of different directions I can go in once I have the degree."

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Christopher James Small

PLANS: To major in computer engineering at the University of Florida

HONORS AND AWARDS: Bright Futures Scholar, Best in Class awards for chemistry, physics

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, football, weightlifting

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Pinellas Community Church volunteer, Habitat for Humanity, Sweet Adelines, little league football coach

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Football

FAVORITE SUBJECT: Physics

HERO OR ROLE MODEL: My father and grandfather, because they are both successful men of integrity who have always given me wise counsel

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: God has given me a good mind and my parents have taught me to work hard and always do my best.

DIFFICULTIES I'VE OVERCOME: Overcoming transferring schools in my junior year due to a family move from New Jersey

PARENTS: Mariette and Larry Small of Tierra Verde

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