Valedictorian reflects an expanding community

Published May 6, 2007

The kids who grew up with Patrick Weightman in Dade City always assumed he would be the valedictorian.

Patrick was smart, always knew where he was headed. He represented the best east Pasco had to offer.

But when Pasco High seniors don caps and gowns this month, Patrick won't be valedictorian. The honor will go to Kattia Roedel. She's ranked No. 1 in the class with a weighted 4.42 grade point average. Patrick, the salutatorian, is No. 2 with a weighted 4.36.

Many of their classmates won't recognize Kattia. That's why some of them resent her. The issue has been simmering on campus and even came up at a School Advisory Committee meeting.

But the valedictorian isn't like being prom king or queen. It's an academic honor, not a popularity contest. Nobody understands that more than Patrick, and his attitude about this little flap just reaffirms why he is so universally liked and respected.

Kattia earned this honor, he said. Nobody should fuss about it.

Patrick might well have equaled her GPA, but he was involved in everything - Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society, student government, golf, soccer, tennis, cross-country, percussion in his church orchestra, working on the high school's Web site. Patrick plans to study history at the University of Florida. Law school may be in his future.

The Weightman name has been a fixture at Pasco High for generations. His parents are Laurel Class of 1977 and Jock (Class of 1975). His great-uncle Tom was Pasco's school superintendent for more than 20 years.

Kattia reflects the changing community that includes more newcomers every year. And while she and Patrick represent the best and brightest, she comes from a much different direction.

She came to this country from her native Costa Rica as a 7-year-old who spoke little English. After two months in English as a Second Language classes and lots of practice at home, she was ready for second grade.

Her mom, Elie, and stepdad, Richard Roedel, a retired federal employee, insisted that she speak only English in the house.

Kattia's has been a nomadic educational journey. She attended schools in Florida and North Carolina and was homeschooled for several months when the three of them lived on a 23-foot sailboat.

When the family moved to Dade City, she entered Pasco High as a second-semester sophomore. Her guidance counselor recommended she do dual enrollment. For the last three years she has spent two hours a day at Pasco High before heading to Pasco-Hernando Community College. She'll get her associate's degree in the mail.

Kattia plans to study finance at the University of South Florida this fall. She sees herself as an international currency trader one day.

She speaks with no trace of an accent when she discusses why she took a different, less-visible path through high school than Patrick did.

"You can't put your friends before the books, " she said.

Chances are, those are words that will show up soon in a valedictorian speech.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.