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In pursuit of excellence

We continue our tribute to the best and the brightest of 2007 with a look at four area high school valedictorians and salutatorians.

Published May 8, 2007


Countryside High

Valedictorian: Tracey Nicole Hanna, 18.

Parents: Dale and Louise Hanna of Clearwater.

Activities: Interact Club president, National Honor Society, Robotics Club, calculus and chemistry class volunteer, concession stand volunteer, Kumon Learning Center tutor, bookkeeper for father's business.

Plans: University of Florida, Gainesville, majoring in chemical engineering.

Hero or role model: My hero's name is Sue Stanley. She is an amazing person who watched me grow up at Girl Scout camp. She and her best friend, Donna Rienzi, were my guiding lights as I made the transition from camper to counselor and learned so much in the process.

Reason for my success: Two things, my parents and years of summer camp. My parents are responsible for instilling in me the will and determination to seek out challenges. They have encouraged me to push my limits mentally and have guided me in how to keep my thoughts and activities organized amongst chaos. My years of summer camp have taught me patience and tolerance. I believe that if you are not able to work with others, you will not succeed in your education or in life.

Before 30, I hope: I would like to have completed a master's or doctorate in chemical engineering and have settled in for a research and development career at a pharmaceutical company. I would like to be doing research for diseases like Alzheimer's or cancer.

Advice to younger students: Don't be afraid to try new things and meet new people. You don't need friends to make friends. Don't be afraid to push yourself, the world won't stop turning if you make a mistake. (Hey, I've totaled a car, I'm not perfect.) I will warn you to think before you act, but the important thing is just to keep moving forward.

* * *

Co-salutatorian: Margaretha Blignaut, 17.

Parents: Susanna and Daniel Blignaut of Safety Harbor.

Activities: National Honor Society president, Academic Team, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters volunteer.

Plans: Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., majoring in anthropology or international relations.

Person who impacted my life: My sister has been a major influence on my life. She has exposed me to many new ideas and has been a wonderful friend.

Advice to freshman: Explore different types of jobs; there are a lot of interesting jobs that most people don't even hear about. Don't feel pressured to choose a career until you are ready.

Favorite book: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. I never had a clear sense of the emotional trauma that can result from war until I read this book about the Vietnam War.

Co-salutatorian: Jana Willsey, 18.

Parents: Greg and Angela Willsey of Clearwater.

Activities: Swim team.

Plans: University of Utah, Salt Lake City, majoring in civil engineering.

Advice to freshmen: Relax. Enjoy high school, but make the most of your education.

Reason I feel hopeful about the future: Human curiosity. I believe that our curiosity drives society forward, improving the world as we learn more.

If I could change one thing about the world it would be: Stop murder.

Dunedin High

Valedictorian: Eduard Bogel, 18.

Parents: Karen and Ed Bogel of Palm Harbor.

Activities: Student Government president, Spanish Honor Society president, Big Brother/Big Sister Program volunteer.

Plans: Harvard University, Cambridge, majoring in engineering.

Reason for my success: I attribute my success to the constant support I have received throughout my schooling from all of my teachers and most of all, my parents.

Before 30, I hope: I would like to have formed a more definite plan by that point so that I can be successful for the rest of my life. Until I decide what I would like to pursue in life, I would like to see all that life has to offer.

Memories: I will most miss the feeling that I have at my high school, which is like a home away from home, where I feel comfortable with the faculty and students and where I feel I can make a difference.

* * *

Salutatorian: Darcy Dayhoff, 18.

Parents: Jocelyn and Skip Dayhoff of Dunedin.

Activities: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, varsity volleyball, varsity track, lifeguard for city of Dunedin.

Plans: Miami of Ohio University, Oxford, Ohio, majoring in zoology.

Change I would like to see: I would stop deforestation and preserve the natural habitat of our endangered species.

Person who impacted my life: Even though I had knee surgery my sophomore year, my high jump coach, Coach Vincent, never gave up on me and worked with me until I was able to jump again. Now I can proudly say I look forward to a promising high jump career in college because he pushed me to never give up.

Advice to freshmen: Try everything your environment has to offer you. You might enjoy some things you didn't expect to, and in high school you don't have to pay for classes.

Largo High

Co-valedictorian: Stephanie Parrish, 18.

Parents: Howard and Patsy Parrish of Largo.

Activities: International Thespian Society, National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, National English Honor Society, Pinellas County Youth Advisory Committee vice chairperson. Volunteer with 4-H for four years, president of 4-H grants board, 800 plus volunteer hours.

Plans: New College of Florida, Sarasota, majoring in psychology or sociology.

Hero or role model: My grandmother because she was generous with a great personality and everyone loved her for it.

Reason for my success: I believe I have been so successful so far because I have a lot of self-motivation and a family who supported me even when I felt like giving up.

Before 30, I hope: To have made a positive impact on hundreds of lives.

Proud moment: When Tiffany and I were told we would share the title of valedictorian and one of our best friends would get to be salutatorian.

Co-valedictorian: Tiffany Nicole Robbins, 18.

Parents: Thomas and Christa Robbins of Largo.

Activities: National Honor Society, Madrigal Singers, Vocally Yours a cappella group, opera chorus member at TBPAC, International Thespian Society, Senior Council, math tutor, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd choir member, teach private piano lessons, waitress.

Plans: Stetson University, DeLand, majoring in music education.

Hero or role model: My role model is my grandpa on my mom's side, Albert Keyser. He was a Lutheran pastor and he passed away when I was 5. He is the center of my first memories of love and a limitless and unconditional faith in God.

Reason for my success: I would attribute it to an inner drive and determination to do my best in all that I do, not being satisfied with anything less, and two loving parents who have supported me in all my endeavors.

Before 30, I hope: I would like to have earned my master's degree in either music education or vocal performance. I would like to have an established studio for teaching private piano and voice lessons and at some point I would like to teach music in the public school system. Most of all, I would like to be married and start a family.

Memories: What I will definitely miss the most about high school is being a proud member of the Largo High School choral department. I wouldn't trade the experiences, memories, and friendships for anything in the world. Our choral director, Mr. William Renfroe, has been such a huge influence in my life and is in large part what has inspired me to teach music.

* * *

Salutatorian: Jenny Morris, 18.

Parents: Sharon Krick of Largo and Jeffrey Morris of St. Petersburg.

Activities: International Thespian Society, Drama Club, Academic Team, Senior Council, Rho Kappa History Honor Society, National English Honor Society, National Honor Society, Principal's Multicultural Advisory Committee, hurricane relief efforts.

Plans: Florida State University, Tallahassee, majoring in theater.

Person who impacted my life: My mom. She is a single parent who has devoted her life to her children.

Change I would like to see: I would give people tolerance and open minds. I think if everyone put himself in another's shoes, so many problems would be solved.

On the future: I feel hopeful because young people are getting more involved with social and world issues, which gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

Tarpon Springs High

Valedictorian: Steve Bennett, 18.

Parents: Steve and Connie Bennett of Tarpon Springs.

Activities: National Honor Society, National Quill and Scroll, Mu Alpha Theta, Latin Club, varsity football, varsity track and field, varsity tennis, yearbook section editor, prom court, Shepherd's Center volunteer, Boys and Girls Club volunteer.

Plans: University of Florida, Gainesville, majoring in business.

By 30, I hope: I would like to be married, own my own business, live on the water and enjoy life.

Hero or role model: Jesus Christ - enough said.

Difficulties overcome: All of the doubters who didn't think an athlete could be valedictorian.

Memories: I'll miss the lights on Friday night, the fans screaming my name in the 100-meter dash, the friends who were always there and the teachers who dedicated their personal time to help students succeed.

* * *

Salutatorian: Jonathan Samuelson, 18.

Parents: Jim and Lori Samuelson of Tarpon Springs

Activities: Academic Team, Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society, Philosophy Club, Juvenile Welfare Board North Community Council vice chairperson, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast volunteer, North Pinellas Historical Museum volunteer.

Plans: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., majoring in computer science/electrical engineering.

Change I would like to see: I would like people to think critically and reasonably instead of acting on emotion.

Advice to freshmen: If you have any ambitions outside of school, pursue them at all costs - don't let schoolwork interfere.

Favorite book: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. It is one of the most intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking books I have ever read.


This series continues next week with a look at the valedictorians and salutatorians from area private high schools: Clearwater Academy International, Indian Rocks Christian, Lakeside Christian and Oldsmar Christian.

[Last modified May 7, 2007, 23:34:00]

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