A new school brought new challenges

Published May 30, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Let's face it, for many high school students, junior and senior years are the sweet payback for two years of hard slogging.

You've finally found your place, earned a spot on athletic teams or otherwise found your niche, hopefully gotten a handle on high school-level academics and set your sights on college. Time to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

So when Dan Sweeney's parents told him the family was moving from New York to Hernando County for his junior and senior years, his first reaction was the same as any high schooler's: You gotta be kidding me.

Tonight, as Dan crosses the stage at Central High School for his diploma, he might just be ready to write a book on the subject. Call it How to Quickly Find Your Place and Succeed in High School.

Consider his accomplishments:

- He was co-captain of the track and basketball teams. "For both sports, it's because I would show up to practice every day and try hard," Dan says.

- He's already earned an associate's degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College. ("The whole dual-enrollment program, he just dive-bombed into it," said his mother, Kathleen.)

- This fall he'll enroll as an 18-year-old junior at the University of Florida, where he plans to study accounting and finance. (He's thinking he might just stick around to earn an M.B.A. so he can get the full, four-year college experience and graduate with his friends.)

- And, despite all the challenges, he had fun at Central. Had fun while working his brains out, to the amazement of friends in Long Island who remember him as rather ordinary. ("They all think it's crazy," Dan said, reflecting on his new work-ethic thing.)

He divulges this evidence of his success reluctantly - he's a young a man of few words - but his parents and teachers are more than happy to brag on his behalf.

"Sometimes when Mom and Dad come in and talk about how wonderful their kid is, you say 'uh-huh,' but Dan has turned out to be as advertised," said guidance counselor Ruth Owen. "He gets the job done."

How to explain it?

There's the family influence. Mom and Dad, former cops, set high standards.

Both of his older sisters are making good money as accountants, and both older brothers are doing well in electrical engineering and computer science.

There's the New York influence, according to Dan. "We like to get things done and live a fast lifestyle up there," he said.

And it turns out that Central High exerts a powerful force of its own. Back when he was trying to find his place in a strange land, without even a car, Dan spent a lot of time up in the stands at football and volleyball games, where he caught some of that Bear fever.

"It seems like the popular kids are the ones who do well in school, do well in sports," Dan said. "More so than in New York."

Here's hoping that fever is catching.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.