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Best of the best

By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published May 11, 2005


Editor's note: They have the highest grade point averages, but it doesn't stop there. Community service, extracurricular activities and ambitious goals make the Class of 2005 valedictorians and salutatorians the Best of the Best.

BOCA CIEGA HIGH

VALEDICTORIAN: Robin Lynn Medicus

PLANS: To attend the University of South Florida to major in microbiology

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society president, Mu Alpha Theta president, state-competing and community thespian

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Math tutor, science fair judge, Jump Start summer algebra program

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: I would change the attitudes of people who place too much emphasis on attaining money and fame so they instead would appreciate the beauty surrounding them in life, live passionately and show more love.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: My imaginary pet velociraptor, Freddie, who helps me with my homework . . . er, I mean, my fabulous parents who always support me

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: By the time I'm 30, I hope to be making significant progress researching stem cells and genetics. As for my "noncareer" life, by age 30 I hope to be married, and I'd like to have played a leading role in a musical.

PARENTS: Beth and Robert Medicus of Pinellas Park

There was no question that Robin Lynn Medicus sported the most unique dress at Bogie's prom. She and her boyfriend showed up wearing outfits made from duct tape to try to win a $5,000 Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck at Prom scholarship. "It was red and had stars all over it," Robin said. "People thought it looked like leather. They kept patting my shoulders." Shy as a child, Robin says she came into her own one summer when she landed a part in a summer production of Hello Dolly! at Ruth Eckerd Hall. She lost her inhibitions and has been outgoing - and slightly outlandish - ever since. She has dabbled in music and has had some success with the piano, but the guitar "isn't working out too well." She likes rock, but also listens to "weird random stuff like Frank Sinatra and Bob Marley." Robin stays grounded by concentrating on her favorite subject: math. "It's one of those things that can be really confusing at first," she said. "But once you figure it out, you have a really big sense of accomplishment."

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Ujval S. Choksi PLANS: To attend the University of South Florida's premed program

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society vice president, Mu Alpha Theta vice president, Academic Team member, Health Occupation Students of America

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Volunteer at Sterling and Pinki Children's hospitals in India and Palms of Pasadena Hospital, fundraiser at Indian cultural programs

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: Science is continuously evolving our lifestyle. Technological progress has resulted in the improvement of medicine, education, communication, transportation, etc. However, the same technological process has been misused for chemical and biological weapons as well as other potential hazards to our living. If I were to change one aspect of the world, it would be to restrict the misuse of technology to aid our living rather than destroying it.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: My determination and the guidance, support and inspiration of my family

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: Become a doctor and serve the community

PARENTS: Bhavna S. and Shailesh M. Choksi of Pinellas Park

DIXIE HOLLINS HIGH

VALEDICTORIAN: Bronson Xuan Ngo PLANS: To attend the University of Florida to major in pharmacy

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Academic Team, student council president, School Advisory Council, Students Rights and Responsibilities, Dixie Ambassadors, Spanish Multicultural Club, Interact, Bohnet's Bunch, homecoming king, varsity golf, basketball, tennis, varsity girls volleyball manager

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Students Teaching Students Not to Smoke, hospice gift wrap, Interact projects, school cleanup and tree planting, babysitting and lawn mowing for neighbors

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: Racism would be eliminated to give every individual an equal chance in opportunities rather than being rejected at the door for their physical features, such as skin color.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: My parents, because without them and my other family members who escaped Communism in Vietnam, I wouldn't be here

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: Get my doctorate in pharmacy, buy my parents a new car and thrive in order to make this world a more peaceful and healthful place

PARENTS: Xuan Nghi Thi Huynh and Buu Ngoc Ngo of Pinellas Park

Besides having the highest grade point average in his class, Bronson Xuan Ngo admits he may also have the strangest sense of humor. His appearance on the homecoming court is a case in point. "I came out and flashed everybody with a bra," he said. "Then I took out a rice bowl and sat down and pretended to eat rice. I got a referral for being sexually obscene, but the senior class started chanting my name so they canceled it and let me stay on the court." He dressed up as Alice in Dixieland for a school assembly and helped turn a traditional dragon dance into a "ghetto hip hop where the dragon was booty dancing." At another assembly, he did the moonwalk a la Michael Jackson. "I just try to have fun with everyone," he said. "I try to have fun with life." Bronson, who comes from a long line of pharmacists, says his family influenced his decision to work toward a pharmacy degree. But he has bigger plans. "Once I get my degree, I want to make as much money as fast as I can," he said. "I don't want to be a pharmacist all my life. I want to be an entrepreneur."

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Kimberly Anne Oliver PLANS: To attend the University of South Florida to study premedical sciences

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society president, Mu Alpha Theta, Bohnet's Bunch, state history fair

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Blood drives, Christmas toy shop, hospice gift wrap

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: I believe that our country needs to bring God back into our laws and our cultures. Prayer should be allowed in school, teachers should have the right to express their beliefs in the classroom, and the Ten Commandments should remain in the courthouse.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I hate failing. I try my hardest in every class. Everything that I do, I don't hold anything back. My thirst for success is what allowed me to be where I am at.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: I would like to be in a successful hospital establishing a residency and have a possible attending position in obstetrics or internal medicine.

PARENT: Marian Trahan of St. Petersburg

GIBBS HIGH

VALEDICTORIAN: Crystal Watters PLANS: To attend the University of South Florida to major in orthodontics

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, student body president, student government executive board member, Student Rights and Responsibilities, WPDS-Ch. 14 host, Who's Who Among American High School Students, Honor Society of Who's Who Among American High School Students, Gladiator Town pioneer to create school spirit

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Lexington Nursing Home volunteer, kindergarten Sunday School teacher, church nursery volunteer, Special Olympics coach, St. Jude donation drive

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: If I could change one thing about the world, I would severely punish all child abusers and molesters for their actions because no innocent child deserves that kind of treatment.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I attribute my success to my parents and my brother, my faith in God, my dedication and my hard work.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: Before I turn 30, I would like to have my doctorate in orthodontistry, own my own practice, and be happily married with healthy children.

PARENTS: Lori and Jeff Watters of St. Petersburg

Crystal Watters counts determination among her best qualities. Experience has taught her that the ideas that meet with the most resistance often have turned out to produce the best results. A case in point: a re-enactment of a drunken driving accident she wanted to stage to warn her classmates about the dangers of drinking and driving at prom time. Administrators didn't think it was feasible because Gibbs High is still under construction, Crystal said. Unwilling to take no for an answer, she enlisted the help of the St. Petersburg Police Department, Bayfront Medical Center and members of the construction crew, who moved the student parking lot to a different location. "My idea was that if we could just save one life it would be worth it," Crystal said. "I learned a lot from that experience. Just because people say no doesn't mean it can't happen." Now that she's achieved her goal to become class valedictorian, she says she's ready to set her sights on college. "I'm sure there will be challenges, but I'll just turn them into opportunities," she said.

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Kurt McRobert PLANS: To attend the School of Visual Arts in New York City to major in illustration

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Pinellas County School for the Arts juried art show, Dali Surrealist exhibition, performance art at Project: Creo gallery

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Art teacher assistant at John Hopkins Middle School, Keep Pinellas Beautiful volunteer, youth volunteer at Edward White Hospital

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: I would change the amount of hate that there is in the world. So much of it is blind hate in which the person is ignorant of important facts and they form an opinion lacking substance.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I attribute my success so far to my family and myself. My parents have supported me, and the environment I was placed in has a huge impact on how I act and what success I achieve. Ultimately, I think it is the individual who is most responsible, because they make the most direct decisions about their life and their level of success.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: I would like to be successful in my chosen art by age 30. I don't have any huge goals other than that. We are always changing, so my goals might change in a week or a month or a year. I try to live life more day to day than waiting for something good in the future to come. I would rather create happiness for myself now.

PARENTS: Regina and Richard McRobert of St. Petersburg

LAKEWOOD HIGH

VALEDICTORIAN: Lillian Stone PLANS: To attend Florida State University to major in international affairs and political science

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, student government historian, soccer

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Christmas toy drive, beach cleanup, soup kitchen, letter writing to soldiers in Iraq, blood drives, school landscaping project chairwoman

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: I would create a world where fossil fuels were not our only major source of energy but where we had some other type of economically feasible renewable energy source.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: For as long as I can remember, I have possessed the ability for people of all ages and backgrounds to feel completely comfortable, to confide to me their fears and struggles with situations they are dealing with in their lives. Perhaps it is because i know how to remain nonjudgmental and can see their strength and goodness that I develop relationships that are genuine. I approach my own life the same way using my values and morals from my parents and family to tackle any obstacle with excitement.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: I would like to open and run my own law practice that specializes in international business.

PARENTS: Kim and Phillip Stone of Gulfport

Lillian Stone considers an Advanced Placement environmental science class one of her most eye-opening high school experiences. The class not only gave her a different perspective, it helped shape her future plans. "I never realized all the problems we have," she said. "Every time I brush my teeth, I think of the gallons of water I'm wasting." She hopes a degree in political science will lead to law school. She chose Florida State University because she figured Tallahassee would be an exciting place to begin her studies in earnest. The decision caused a stir in the family. Her older sister is at FSU, but her two brothers are at the University of Florida. "My little cousins used to be Gator fans," she said. "Now that my sister and I are going to Florida State, they're Seminole fans. We're going to have some serious rivalry going on." Among the things she'll miss once she leaves home is her mother's cooking. "I don't know how to make that much," she said. "A lot of my friends are very health conscious, but I'll probably be eating ravioli and mac and cheese."

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Maria Szaflarski PLANS: To attend the University of Florida to major in nursing

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Student Government Association, Interact, multicultural assembly

COMMUNITY SERVICE: R Club and National Honor Society activities

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: Recently, I researched a disease called progeria, which reminded me of how powerless an individual can be to terminal disease. As most people on this planet, I would not want to see, hear or read about anyone suffering, so I would wipe out every disease that expands this world with death as well as pain and suffering. I can't leave out depression and despair, since they are also an important part of the world today which sometimes can plague people terminally.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: Personally, I do not consider my standing a success, especially since I did not apply myself as I should have. I wish I could give this position to the next person who was truly striving for it, realizing that to him or her, such an accomplishment would be better valued. I guess that what prevented me from complete failure were my first teachers who broke the language barrier for me and made me realize that I can fit into a different world.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: The accomplishment of life; to survive until I'm 30.

PARENTS: Wanda and Stanly Szaflarski of Pinellas Park

CENTER FOR ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES AT LAKEWOOD HIGH

VALEDICTORIAN: Jason Conage-Pough PLANS: To attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology to major in biomedical engineering or biological sciences

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Honor Society, Ebony Scholars, Academic Team, Center for Advanced Technologies Communication multimedia program

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Tutor at Bay Point Elementary, Lakewood Estates bicycle rodeo volunteer

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: If I could change one thing about the world, I would ensure everyone was provided with the basic necessities of life, including sufficient and affordable health care, quality education and viable employment to supply a comfortable living wage.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I attribute my success to steadfast resolve and a constant desire to learn. I also attribute my success to the continued support of my parents, teachers and friends.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: By age 30, I would like to have a successful medical practice or to be a part of a research team for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PARENTS: Arlene Conage-Pough and John Pough Sr. of St. Petersburg

Jason Conage-Pough was faced with a choice recently that most high school seniors - and their parents - would envy. He had to decide whether he wanted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Florida, or Duke, Johns Hopkins or Brown universities. He chose MIT because he thought it would provide the best preparation for medical school. The youngest of four children, Jason thanks his parents for making his success possible. "There was always an emphasis on education, especially math and reading," he said. "From an early age, I set my goals high and had a passion for furthering my education." Despite his accomplishments, he considers himself different from his peers only in terms of how much he drives himself. "My drive sometimes borders on being insane," he said. "But I can depend on my friends to rein me in. You have to have a balance." After four intense years of high school, he is looking forward to the continued rigor of college. "It's the opening of a door into a very long hallway," he said.

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Alexander D. Shifrin PLANS: To attend the University of Florida to major in either mechanical engineering or international business

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: Center for Advanced Technologies Communication multimedia program, Powder Puff cheerleading

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Holocaust Museum volunteer

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: If I could change a single thing about the world, I would end world hunger. It may seem like the cliche response, but when 8-million die each year from not having enough food, it is the only response you should say. A world without hunger would, indeed, be a better world.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I would have to attribute my success to hard work, although sometimes at the last minute, and influence from my family. Anything can be achieved with hard work, and when you have a mother, father and brother show support for your efforts, you can go far.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: By 30, I would like to be at a high position in an American engineering firm operating somewhere in Europe. I would like to be at least trilingual and feel like whatever I have done up to that point in my life would have been exactly what I wanted to do.

PARENTS: Lisa Horvath and Lawrence Shifrin of St. Petersburg

NORTHEAST HIGH

VALEDICTORIAN: Courtney McKay, PLANS: To attend the University of Florida; major is undecided

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: Mu Alpha Theta, Student Government Association

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Volunteer at Grace Health Care ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: If I could change one thing about the world, it would be to lower the crime rate. Every day on the news you hear about somebody getting murdered or another child who was kidnapped. It's a sad situation that needs to be fixed.

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: I attribute my success to the constant support of my family and friends as well as to my own motivation. I have always been self-motivated to do my schoolwork and stay focused.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: By the time I turn 30, I would like to accomplish a feeling of success. I would like to graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in the medical field and hopefully be settled in a stable and enjoyable profession.

PARENTS: Karen and Tim Russell and Scott McKay of St. Petersburg

Like many Northeast High students, Courtney McKay's ties to the school run deep. Her younger sister attends Northeast. Her cousin is in her graduating class. And her aunt was a Northeast valedictorian. Courtney felt no pressure from her parents to excel, but appreciates their guidance. "I've always been self-motivated, but I've also had a lot of support from my family," she said. "I think our parents have just always wanted us to do our best." They already have offered Courtney their advice as she heads to college: Stay focused on school and get involved but have fun. It's advice similar to what she has offered her sister. "I told her, "Don't procrastinate and don't get senioritis,' " she said. "That makes it really hard." After a stressful senior year, Courtney plans to continue working part time with her family's business but hopes to relax a little before buckling down to the strenuous honors program at UF. "There will be more pressure, but the benefits are worth it," she said.

* * *

SALUTATORIAN: Jennifer Lynn Lambert PLANS: To attend the University of Florida to major in pharmacy

SENIOR YEAR ACTIVITIES: National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, flag football, diving and swimming

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Little Vikings preschool volunteer

ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE IF I COULD: That the average student put more emphasis on their education and realize just how important it really is

THE REASON FOR MY SUCCESS: My father and stepmother 110 percent for pushing me until I achieved my highest potential. I also feel Mr. Hoest and Mr. Wilson are extremely intelligent and motivating teachers, along with my guidance counselor Mr. Chorney.

ONE THING I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE I'M 30: A degree in pharmacy from the University of Florida and at least five years actually working in the field

PARENTS: Shelley and Steven Lambert of St. Petersburg

[Last modified May 11, 2005, 11:16:30]


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