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4 teens who overcame win Barnes scholarships

The 2005 Barnes Scholarship winners were selected from among 10 finalists from 314 students in five counties.

By NANCY WACLAWEK
Published March 15, 2005


Hard work, hardship and heartache are the themes running through the lives of the four winners of the 2005 Barnes Scholarship announced this week by the St. Petersburg Times Fund Inc.

This year's winners are Carla Baricz of Springstead High School in Hernando County; Adrian Diaz of East Bay High School in Hillsborough County; Canaan McCaslin of Armwood High School in Hillsborough County; and Sarah Plikunas of Seminole High School in Pinellas County.

They were selected from among 10 finalists interviewed at the newspaper's St. Petersburg office in February. A total of 314 students from public and private schools in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties had applied.

For each winner, the scholarship is worth as much as $60,000 over four years at an accredited U.S. college or university. Last year, the St. Petersburg Times provided more than $250,000 in financial aid to college students through the Barnes Scholarships.

The program was established in 1999 as a way to help financially needy college-bound teens who had overcome significant obstacles in their lives while remaining committed to academic achievement.

Until last May, the scholarship was called the St. Petersburg Times Scholarship. The program was renamed to honor Andrew Barnes, former chairman and chief executive of the Times , upon his retirement. Barnes had urged establishment of the scholarships to help young people in the Times' circulation area of west-central Florida.

The scholarships are administered through the St. Petersburg Times Fund Inc., which has provided aid for college students since 1953.

"We want to make a difference in the lives of young people, who themselves will go on to make a difference, in their careers and their contributions to their communities," said Paul Tash, chairman, CEO and editor of the Times. "If you ever worry about the future of America, here are four excellent reasons for hope."

Carla Baricz, 17, was born in Romania, right before that country's political revolution. She was raised by her grandparents after her mother immigrated to the United States in 1989, unable to take her young daughter with her. When Carla was 7, she flew by herself to New York to meet the mother she knew only from photographs. Carla did not speak English, so she learned the language by reading newspapers and library books in addition to her classes at school.

Searching for a more affordable place to live, Carla's family moved from the Northeast to Florida before Carla started high school. Her mother is a licensed practical nurse and supports the family, which includes Carla's grandmother, her stepfather and her two stepbrothers. Her stepfather, who had been a truck driver, is disabled.

Two passions drive Carla's ambition: her love of writing and her dream of being a doctor. She is fifth in her class of 233 at Springstead High School in Hernando County, and she has a GPA of 4.24. She is a member of the National Honor Society, the German National Honor Society, the International Society of Poets, the high school Academic Team, and the Humanities and Etymology Society. Last year, she won the grand prize in the National History Day Competition for her essay on Van Gogh and the emotions he expressed in his paintings. That prize came with a $100,000 scholarship to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Carla also has applied to the University of Chicago.

Adrian Diaz, 17, comes from a close-knit family that lives in the Ruskin area of Hillsborough County. His mother and father, who were born in Mexico, made a life for Adrian, his two sisters and two brothers by working agricultural jobs. Adrian's father is a foreman at BT&R Elsberry Farms Inc., which grows ornamental plants, and since he turned 15, Adrian has worked many hours after school and on weekends with his father to earn money for college. Being accepted to Ohio State University fulfills both his and his parents' dreams for his future. Adrian plans to major in mechanical engineering.

Adrian attends East Bay High School and ranks eighth in his class of 413, with a GPA of 3.4. He is a Key Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta (math club). He also tutors students at Beth Shields Middle School through a program sponsored by the Redlands Christian Migrant Association.

Canaan McCaslin, 18, loves politics and sees himself running for office. His friends and coaches at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County who know of his ambitions have nicknamed him "Colin Powell." And his experiences on the debate team this year only further served to confirm that interest. So he wants attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Canaan ranks 30th in his class of 369 at Armwood, and he has a GPA of 4.83. He has made getting a good education a priority. His mother works in a restaurant in Temple Terrace. His father has been absent from his life. His grandfather and his mother "are the glue that holds (the family) together," Canaan said, and his faith in God has kept him going through the adversity his family has faced.

He also says that football taught him to be focused and disciplined about achieving his goals - especially this year as Armwood won its second straight Division 4A football title.

Canaan works part-time at Busch Gardens. He is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society and Interact, and he has volunteered at a day care center and with the Boys and Girls Club. He also is listed in Who's Who Among American High School Students .

Sarah Plikunas, 18, was in the seventh grade when her mother and her best friend were killed in an auto accident the day after Christmas. Her way of coping with those great losses was to pour herself into her studies.

Sarah is third in her class of 393 at Seminole High School in Pinellas County and her GPA is 4.6. She is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and she has been a volunteer cheerleading instructor. She will attend Northwestern University and then plans to go to law school.

Because money is tight in their family, Sarah has worked after school and weekends for the last three years to save for college. Her father supports Sarah, her two brothers, ages 19 and 16, and their grandmother on his salary as an elevator technician.

The six runners-up for the Barnes Scholarship each will receive a one-time award of $1,000. They are Joseph Browne of Middleton High School in Hillsborough County; Victoria Huynh of Pinellas Park High School in Pinellas County; April Nelson of Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough County; Lacey Phillips of Ridgewood High School in Pasco County; Vu-Anh Thai of Land O'Lakes High School in Pasco County; Nhu-Mai Tran of Pinellas Park High School in Pinellas County.

The winners and finalists will be honored May 3 at a luncheon at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in St. Petersburg. The guest speaker will be Adrienne LeBas, a doctoral candidate in political science at Columbia University in New York and a visiting lecturer in international relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. LeBas grew up in Largo and graduated in 1993 from the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School.

Seventeen students are receiving financial assistance through the Barnes Scholarship. Five will graduate from college in May. Three graduated in 2004. The previous winners are enrolled at Duke University, Rice University, Tulane University, Princeton University, the University of Michigan, Washington University, University of Florida, University of Tampa, Salem College, Eckerd College, American University and Franciscan University.

Each fall, students from throughout the Times' circulation area are invited to apply for the Barnes Scholarship. Applications are available in August in high school guidance offices, by mail from the director of the St. Petersburg Times Fund, and on the Times Web site (www.sptimes . com/scholarships. The application deadline is Oct. 15.

For information, call Nancy Waclawek, director of the St. Petersburg Times Fund Inc., at (727) 893-8780 or visit the Web site.

[Last modified March 15, 2005, 01:06:08]


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