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Dreyfoos valedictorian aims to experiment with film technology

June 1, 2016 on 4:29 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Catherine Chen, 18

Catherine Chen found herself in a very different kind of meeting with the principal and the top 20 students at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. Like David Letterman’s famous top ten list, the principal started a countdown to reveal their valedictorian — Chen.

At the conclusion, amid cheers and laughter, there was a celebration that included lots of ice cream.

“I kinda already knew for a while,” said Chen. “I was still happy, it was good. It made me feel really excited because at the meeting all my friends were there and they all started screaming.”

Then came the realization that she would be the one to give that speech.

“I think I felt a little bit nervous about it at first,” said Chen.

The visual arts major gave it some thought and saw just how to show her fellow students how life is a series of ups and downs.

“I wrote my speech about how life is a roller coaster,” said Chen. “We had a good time at my school, and these are memories that we won’t ever forget. But life goes on and it will be difficult, sometimes, but we can still get back up and keep going.”

Chen kept going and kept very busy.

Along with keeping up her academics, Chen was president of the Guild of Visual Arts, National Science Honor Society, and National Art Honor Society, co-vice president of Student Council, and historian of Spanish Honor Society.

She was dual-enrolled at Florida Atlantic University and Palm Beach State College. At FAU, she participated in an intensive, immersive environmental series of courses through the Pine Jog Fellowship. One of her most memorable courses at PBSC was the Principles of 3D Animation that gave her hands on experience with Maya, a complex animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software program — there were only four students in the class. Chen finishes the year with a GPA of 4.0 and an HAP of 5.4675.

Catherine Chen from Wellington is the 2016 valedictorian for Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts.

Catherine Chen from Wellington is the 2016 valedictorian for Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts.

She had some heavy-hitter choices for colleges including: MIT, University of Southern California, Yale, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Rhode Island School of Design, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Florida and Florida State University and California Institute of the Arts.

Chen chose the one she thought was best suited to help her reach her dreams — the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, one of the country’s finest film schools where she will major in animation and digital arts.

“It’s academic curriculum and program fit me best,” said Chen. “It is also the school that can help me with my career the most. USC’s School of Cinematic Arts is the best film school in the world, so how can I resist?”

As a visual arts major Chen sees the world differently. The portfolio that she’s developed throughout high school is layered — a combination of visual and interactive artwork combining an earthy material such as painting as well as the ethereal – digital technology.

“I want to experiment with the technology of film while I’m telling the story,” said Chen. “I have to bring something new to the table. A lot of it is personal and time-based, time jumping, stream of consciousness, I don’t only want to tell stories in a linear order. I want to experiment with concepts and make people confused at first and then have them go, ‘oh that’s what Catherine is talking about,’ instead of being straight forward.”

Q&A

What are your hobbies?

Soccer, ice skating and tae kwon do sparring. I also like to watch movies.

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

I would sing, run around outside, jump, dance, and do whatever I want without anyone judging me.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Hayao Miyazaki (Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author and manga artist.)

What is the best advice you ever received?

My grandfather told me to be the sea which takes in water from many rivers. He means to be open-minded and take in positive influences from other people.

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

Since society in much of history has not been good to females or minorities, my options are limited. Instead I would like to witness an event in the future when hopefully pollution is decreased, when sexism and racism completely eliminated, and when nature flourishes. Hopefully then, I could see every star clearly in the sky.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Catching frogs and collecting snails, making up games, and drawing attempted graphic novels.

Who is your hero, someone who inspires you?

Hayao Miyazaki

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I love stream of consciousness and stories about time-skipping. I also like stories which confuse fantasy with reality, and I like to finish my dreams before waking up in the morning. My favorite video game is Okami, and currently I am playing Fallout 4.

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

I would bring a house, sword and a working genie lamp.

John I. Leonard valedictorian wants to increase access to education

May 25, 2016 on 4:18 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Kristy Sanchez, 17

To say that Kristy Sanchez cried tears of joy when she found out that she was John I. Leonard High School’s valedictorian was an understatement, it was more like rivers. By the time she got home to tell her family, they were all crying together.

Kristy Sanchez is the 2016 valedictorian of John I. Leonard High School.

Kristy Sanchez is the 2016 valedictorian of John I. Leonard High School.

“I was sitting in class and got called to the guidance office, when I got there they asked me, ‘Do you know what this is about?’ then they said. ‘It’s about valedictorian and salutatorian, do you know which you are? You are the valedictorian.’ I started shaking,” said Sanchez.

The news was a little hard for her to absorb.

“I went to class and I paced for the entire class — for 45 minutes I didn’t do any of the work that day because I was in shock. I had told my dad that I was supposed to stay after for a club meeting, but I called and asked him to pick me up after school. He was worried that something was wrong, I told him it’s nothing bad, I need to go home.”

Sanchez couldn’t even discuss it in the car. When her dad pulled into the driveway she handed him the official letter from the school.

Then he started crying.

Before long the whole family was passing around the tissues.

It took a lot of work to get there.

The 17-year-old Greenacres resident was part of John I. Leonard’s magnet program, the Computer Academy, that gives students the opportunity to earn up to eight industry certifications. Sanchez is now a Microsoft Office Specialist for Microsoft Office Word 2010, Microsoft Office Word Expert 2013, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2010, Microsoft Office Excel 2010. She is also an Adobe Certified Associate for Adobe Photoshop CS6.

Sanchez participated in the rigorous Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program that’s offered through the University of Cambridge in England. In her junior year she dual enrolled at Palm Beach State College completing six classes. She’ll finish the year with a 4.0 GPA and an HPA of 5.2.

In addition to academics Sanchez is vice president of her class and vice president of the mathematics honors society, Mu Alpha Theta. She also served as a representative for ASPIRA which means aspire in Spanish. The organization is dedicated to developing leadership in Hispanic youth, but Sanchez said at her school, it is open to everyone.

Her secret for success — never entertaining the notion of procrastination.

“I think of the big picture,” said Sanchez. “I don’t that about it too much, I just do it knowing it will be worth it.”

Worth it?

Sanchez was accepted to the University of Florida, University of Miami, University of Central Florida and New York University. This fall she’ll head off to Gainesville to become a UF Gator.

Although she has a knack for technology, Sanchez has a great interest in criminology and law, which she plans on pursuing in college.

After taking both government and sociology her senior year she learned a lot about wealth inequality.

“It made me more angry than I’ve ever been,” said Sanchez. “I’ve never felt more passion about anything before. I think my main thing is increasing the access that minorities have to education. I think education is the most important thing anyone can receive.”

Sanchez is thinking about a career that would help change that.

“I think I want to work for the government,” she said. “I want to focus on the legal system and politics. My ultimate goal is working for Congress.”

Q & A

What are your hobbies?

Spending time with family, reading, tweeting.

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

Take a break from my responsibilities and relax for the entire day.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Sonia Sotomayor

What is the best advice you ever received?

“Just make a decision, it’s really not that serious” — from my sisters.

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

Women’s Suffrage Movement

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Long road trips with my family.

Who is your hero, someone who inspires you?

Malala Yousafzai

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I’m very sarcastic.

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Knife, survival guide, cooking pot.

Palm Beach Lakes top grad picks Brown to pursue dream of law career

May 18, 2016 on 4:13 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Ijahala Pottinger, 18

Ever since the fifth grade Ijahala Pottinger has had an answer to that nagging question adults seem to ask all school-age children: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Ijahala-Pottinger

For Pottinger her goals were lofty, supreme even.

“I wanted to have a career in law,” said Pottinger. “I’d like to eventually be a Supreme Court justice.”

So when it was time to go off to high school, the 18-year-old, Royal Palm Beach resident looked to the county’s choice programs and met her match.

Ijahala Pottinger, along with other members of the Florida Key Club district board, enjoying their last district-wide gathering together at the 2016 Governor’s Banquet in Orlando.

“It has the best law program in the whole county,” said Pottinger. “No other school seemed appropriate or fitting for me other than Palm Beach Lakes.”

Pottinger inches one step closer to her goals with the title valedictorian this year.

“I was in guidance office talking with my councilor about an AP (Advanced Placement) government course I took online,” said Pottinger. “While I was in there, my guidance councilor (Wanda Thomas) asked me, did you get a letter from the school? At first I thought she meant a letter from the college I was going to.”

What Thomas meant was the official letter from Palm Beach Lakes letting her know that she was the valedictorian. Thomas didn’t hold back and told Pottinger that she was the valedictorian.

“It was really unexpected,” said Pottinger. “I thought that I was going to end up being salutatorian. Four or five days later I got the letter. It was fancy, it had the school seal and it was signed by the principal.”

Besides taking a slew of rigorous AP, Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) classes, and being dual-enrolled in classes at Palm Beach State College, Pottinger was president of the National Honor Society and the Florida Law Honor Society as well as the Division 20A lieutenant governor of the Florida District Key Club International. She was also a member of the Spanish Honor Society and the mock trial team. But where she really found a home was in Palm Beach County Youth Court where she serves as the lead prosecutor.

“It’s unique to Palm Beach Lakes, we have our own courtroom on campus and we try cases on the first Monday of each month.”

The mock youth court is not so mock, it involves a real student who has already pled guilty to an offense and is being given a second chance. The students make up the jury, prosecutors, defense lawyers, bailiff and clerks. The kids argue the case in front of Palm Beach County judges who volunteer and adjudicate. The offenders are often given community service or rehabilitation.

Pottinger also works at Rapids Water Park and has gotten real world legal experience with an internship for the personal injury law firm Lesser, Lesser, Landy and Smith.

Pottinger ends the school year with a 4.0 GPA and an HPA of 5.1. She’s been accepted to Florida State University, University of Florida, Georgetown, Duke University and Brown. She was wait-listed at Harvard and Dartmouth.

This fall Pottinger heads to Rhode Island to attend Brown where she will take up a double concentration in history and economics.

“I know I’m going to law school, so as an undergraduate I want to become more intellectually capable, having a breadth of knowledge in a variety of fields. Economics will help my LSAT and I have a passion for history, it’s my all-time favorite subject.”

She says her speech at graduation “is about looking to the future with optimism as I know my school’s graduating class will accomplish great things in the future. I also discuss staying true to oneself and not letting a high school’s reputation define one’s success for the future.”

Q&A

What are your hobbies?

Googling things, people, or events that I don’t know about and reading about it on Wikipedia, baking/decorating cupcakes, and taking afternoon naps — when I get the chance.

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

Go to work (Rapids Water Park), get on the water rides with people, and tickle them the whole way down.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

What is the best advice you ever received?

“The happiest people in life are the ones who know how to build a bridge and get over it.” — My Uncle Rhondie

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

The Paris Peace Conference! I’d love to be there for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain.

Who is your hero, someone who inspires you?

Not only do my 12-year-old sister and 15-year-old brother inspire me to become a better sibling, but they also motivate me to be the best person I can be.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I keep stashes of candy all around my room … And sometimes I forget where I put them so they go stale before I can eat them!

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Twizzlers – my favorite food; sunglasses – protecting your eyes from the sun is a must; Netflix – so that I can properly “chill”.

Santaluces valedictorian wants to give back, teach next generation

May 11, 2016 on 4:08 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments
If there’s one thing anyone can say about Afsana Chowdhury, she knows herself pretty well.

The 18 year-old Greenacres resident knew her ranking at Santaluces High School, so when the assistant principal called her into the office, she already knew what was happening.

Afsana-Chowdhury, Santaluces-Community High School Valedictorian

Afsana-Chowdhury, Santaluces-Community High School Valedictorian

“When I saw my friend there, I knew why we were both called in — because she was salutatorian and I was valedictorian — we had already known about our ranks.”

Knowing she took the top spot didn’t take any of the thrill away.

“I was proud of myself, also nervous,” said Chowdhury. “I know I have to give a speech.”

Never one to procrastinate, she already has written that speech.

“I did write it and went over it with my English teacher,” said Chowdhury. “I tried to include everyone so everyone could connect to it emotionally.”

For Chowdhury, leaving high school will be bittersweet.

“It’s been tough, a lot of work, but I’ve made meaningful friendships. I will miss it.”

Chowdhury finishes Santaluces with a 4.0 GPA and an HPA of 4.9554. She was a member of the Key Club and is a current member of the National Honor Society.

She credits her organizational skills to achieving good grades.

“It’s really hard, but time management is super-important,” said Chowdhury. “I always write down the things that I need to do, whether it’s in my agenda, on a piece of paper, or on a sticky note. I write every detail, down to the amount of time it will take to complete assignments and sometimes even what time of day — morning, after school, night — each thing will be done. I also try to take a nap every day after school to give me a boost for the rest of the night.”

As far as college goes, Chowdhury knew exactly where she wanted to go — Florida Atlantic University — and what she wanted to do, pursue a degree in elementary education.

But there are also some things she’s more ambivalent about, like not having a personal connection to professors in the same way she developed relationships with her teachers.

“I feel like when you really know your teachers, and when they really know you, it can make the learning experience so much easier, because you feel comfortable with them and won’t hesitate to ask questions.”

One thing she appreciates about going to FAU is the logistics.

“It was the only one I applied to, because I’ve known since the beginning that FAU was where I wanted to go. I can still live at home while I’m in college. Plus, it offers the major that I wanted to pursue, elementary education.”

Chowdhury credits Santaluces’ Early Childhood Academy with helping her to make this life choice.

“I’ve always liked kids, and I got a lot of experience working with kids, that’s why I would really like to be a teacher,” she said.

For Chowdhury it’s all about being able to give back, while looking ahead.

“I like the idea of raising the next generation and teaching them in an effective way,” said Chowdhury. “We need teachers to teach kids and help them grow and develop. We need more trained teachers especially in low-income areas and in Title I schools. I’d like to be a part of that.”

Q & A

What are your hobbies?

Sleeping, learning Arabic and learning more about Islam.

What would you do if you were invisible for a day?

Travel around the world for free — no plane tickets needed!

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

What is the best advice you ever received?

“We shouldn’t try to please people. We should try to please God.”

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

It’s not a single “event,” but I would love to have witnessed the time when Islam was first introduced and when it first started capturing the hearts of people.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Playing outside with my brother and cousin every single afternoon.

Who is your hero, someone who inspires you?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I have a terrible memory — I always have to write things down, or I’ll (most likely) forget them.

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

A copy of the Quran, my laptop, and portable Wi-Fi.

Pahokee valedictorian headed to Duke thanks to Gates scholarship

May 4, 2016 on 5:30 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Ashley Wilson, 17

Not many people can remember the grade they got in second grade for reading, or in sixth grade for science or as a freshman for history, but for Ashley Wilson, that’s easy, she’s been making straight As since she was in kindergarten.

ashley-wilson

So it came as no surprise that the 17-year-old Belle Glade resident is Pahokee High School’s valedictorian.

“Of course I was excited,” said Wilson. “But there was also a sort of confirmation and feeling of security.”

Wilson said that she’s not ‘all work, no play.’

Pahokee valedictorian headed to Duke thanks to Gates scholarship photo

“I find the balance and can enjoy being a typical teenager,” said Wilson. “I go to parties, have a huge sense of humor, love to have fun, and can connect with just about anybody. Most people don’t even realize that I’m the valedictorian, until someone tells them.”

Or until you see the list of schools she’s been accepted to — Duke University, Notre Dame, University of Florida and University of Miami.

Although Duke was her first choice, the hefty price tag would have prohibited her from attending, until she found out that she is the recipient of a Gates Millennium Scholarship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I felt pure joy,” said Wilson. “It was truly a blessing for my family and myself. Getting Gates means that all of my hard work has paid off and that people other than my family and people in my community believe in me..”

Wilson earned it. She took rigorous academic courses in the International Baccalaureate program and participated in Palm Beach State College’s dual enrollment program.

During her senior year she was both president of the National Honor Society and Student Council; was co-captain of the cheerleading squad; and played softball. She also participated in the Empowering Champions Program, which helps students polish up their job interviewing skills and work etiquette while providing experience.

Wilson finishes with a 4.0 GPA and an HPA of 5.1. Although she’s enjoying the accolades of being number one, it comes with the responsibility of being a role model to younger kids in her community.

“Some people think that the only way you can be successful is by playing football or athletics,” said Wilson. “I don’t want them to conform to that way of thinking.”

She cringes when successful people from her hometown are interviewed and say they’re from West Palm Beach.

“You should never forget about home,” said Wilson. “Belle Glade and the people here made you. I want people to know where I’m from. If necessary, I’ll explain its history and location. I’m proud of my community.”

“I think it’s my duty in a sense to show people in my community who look up to me that you don’t have to be who your aren’t or depend on one thing — you can rely on education. I want to help those kids. I want them to know that there’s someone in their corner showing them they can be who they want to be.”

Wilson hopes to be a trauma surgeon.

“I like that you never know what may come up or what you may encounter in any given day,” said Wilson. “In trauma you have to think fast and be on your feet at all times. I like the fast pace, it excites me in a way. I like a challenge.”

Q&A

What are you reading now?

“The Importance of Being Earnest” by OscarWilde

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Procrastinating

What’s you favorite junk food?

Chips

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

President Obama

Who do you admire most?

My mother

What’s playing on your iPod?

Rihanna, J. Cole, Drake, Beyonce, Future

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

Laptop with Wi-Fi (even though this may be impossible); unlimited food supply (including water); first-aid kit.

What is your favorite movie?

“Mean Girls”

Who is your favorite actor?

Morris Chestnut

Wellington’s top student hopes to one day make technology easier

April 20, 2016 on 5:07 pm | In As Seen In..., General, Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: DAVY YUE, 17

It’s not every day that the principal shows up for English class.That’s when 17-year-old Wellington High School senior Davy Yue suspected something.

“Mr. Crocetti, the school principal, visited my second-period English class, made a small announcement congratulating me for becoming Wellington’s 2015 -16 valedictorian and gave me a formal handshake for achieving such an honorable position,” Yue said.

Davy Yue is the 2016 valedictorian for Wellington High School.

Davy Yue is the 2016 valedictorian for Wellington High School.

Yue has a 3.9 GPA and an HPA (honors point average) of 5.24; however by the end of the year both will get a boost because of the AICE courses that he’s enrolled in. Along with his rigorous academics schedule, Yue is dually enrolled in various classes at Palm Beach State College. He also made sure to include courses that sparked his interest, such as AP computer science, AP art studio: drawing portfolio, and AP psychology.

As president of the National English Honor Society for the past two years, Yue volunteered tutoring kids at New Horizons and Wellington Landings schools. He is president of the Math Honor Society, where he is involved in managing various math competitions.

Wellington’s top student hopes to one day make technology easier photo

In his downtime, Yue enjoys painting and admits to being a bit obsessed with origami. He became interested when he saw a friend take an ordinary sheet of paper and turn it into something magical.

He even started his own club.

“I founded and have been president of the Origami Club for three years,” said Yue. “In the Origami Club, I teach other students about how to fold mundane printer paper into fascinating three-dimensional objects.”

Not one to procrastinate, Yue has penned his graduation speech, and is a little relieved for a reprieve.

“It feel great having worked so hard for years and to be able to achieve a position that’s obviously the highest honor at my school,” said Yue. “It was sort of a relief knowing that it’s almost the end.”

For Yue, this is just the beginning. The Wellington resident has been accepted to Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Florida, however he will head to Nashville this fall to attend his dream school, Vanderbilt University.

“Vanderbilt provides the combination of both a challenging academic environment and a diverse, passionate community that would continue to impact me for my whole life,” said Yue.

It all seems to jive well with his favorite quote from Justin James “J. J.” Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans, who said, “Success isn’t owned. It’s leased and rent is due every day.”

At Vanderbilt, he’ll pursue a degree in computer science. Yue hopes to end up at a big firm like Google, creating technology that makes life easier for people.

“I’ve always liked programs that ease the user’s ability to utilize technology for their own benefit,” he said.

Q&A

What are you reading now?

“The Complete Book of Origami: Step-by Step Instructions in Over 1,000 Diagrams” by Robert J. Lang

What’s your favorite junk food?

Key Lime Pie Oreos

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Morgan Freeman, whose voice alone would assure me that all is well in the universe. He doesn’t even have to speak English; Pig Latin would have the same calming affect.

Who do you admire most?

Bill Gates

What’s playing on your iPod?

“Not Afraid,” by Eminem

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

A pedal-powered boat, Usain Bolt, and a 4.2-pound bag of Ling Ling All Natural Potstickers — chicken and vegetable flavor.

Glades Central valedictorian wants to focus on environment

April 13, 2016 on 5:12 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Lauren Diaz, 18

Glades Central High School valedictorian Lauren Diaz wants every high school student to know that getting to the top isn’t necessarily just for the smart kids.

“I wasn’t always at the top of my class. I was a terrible student. I entered high school with a 1.7 grade point average and ranked in the lower 10 percent of my class. I even failed gym at one point,” laughed Diaz. “I hate to say it.”

Toward the end of her freshman year, Diaz decided enough was enough.

“I guess I had an epiphany,” said Diaz. “I was just sitting on my bed reflecting on my life, seeing everybody else I know succeeding. I thought, I’m better than that. I know I’m capable. I was just very determined to change my lifestyle and what people deemed my fate. For me, people saw how I was, assumed I was going to be stuck here.”

Instead the 18-year-old Belle Glade resident recommitted herself to academics. She enrolled in the rigorous Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program, took Advanced Placement classes and was the first in her class to be dual enrolled at Palm Beach State College. Diaz will graduate with a 3.7 GPA and a HPA of 4.7.

“I’m going to graduate valedictorian, I’m going to UF (University of Florida) in the summer and study environmental engineering and have a planned career.”

It’s that belief that you can do anything you put your mind to that she wants to relay to the student body when she gives that big speech at graduation.

“I want to mention in my speech that despite being at the bottom, despite your current struggles, you’re more than capable of graduating valedictorian of your class.”

Another value she wants to pass along is that it’s OK to be happy.

“Telling my peers to do whatever makes them happy,” said Diaz. “I’m a really big believer in that as long as you’re happy doing whatever you like, that’s success. If someone works at a laundromat and goes in everyday loving what they do, that’s success. It’s just as successful as someone who has their doctorate degree.”

For Diaz, happiness is environmental engineering. She got a taste of it taking an AICE environmental management class in high school.

“I very much care about environmental protection due to the way I was raised and where I live,” said Diaz. “Growing up my parents couldn’t offer me the latest gadgets and toys, instead most of my days were spent outdoors and being very imaginative. My community right now faces major threats to our water and air.

“Belle Glade is surrounded by fields for crops and sugar mills which is causing our water to fill with pesticides. Seasonal sugar cane burning also causes our children to grow up with respiratory issues. I want to help my community with those threats. I want to protect the world that not only gave me tremendous happiness, but also life.”

This summer Diaz will begin that quest at UF, the only school she applied to, her dream school.

“I hope to work down in the Everglades,” she said. “UF conducts research down there and I hope to find a way to get involved in that research. There are several threats that are hurting the Everglades.”

Q&A

What are you reading now?

“Skeleton Crew” by Stephen King

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Shōjo manga/anime, Shōjo is Japanese animation and illustration targeted at teenage girls and typically consist of EXTREMELY cheesy love stories.

What’s your favorite junk food?

Cheeseburgers

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Harriet Tubman

Who do you admire most?

My mother

What’s playing on your iPod?

My music ranges from Judy Kuhn’s “Colors of the Wind” (a song from the Disney film “Pocahontas”) to A$AP Rocky’s “Angels”. But my current favorite artist is J. Cole.

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

A machete, a solar-powered desalination machine and sunscreen.

Loop the Lake co-chair overcame adversity, now helps others

January 27, 2016 on 4:45 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Liz Cayson, 45

Acreage resident Liz Cayson speaks from experience when it comes to overcoming adversity.

This past June, the 45-year-old Acreage resident was honored with the 2015 YWCA Grace Dodge Award at the YWCA of Palm Beach County’s Purse & Passion luncheon at the Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach.

“I was surprised,” said Cayson. “I was invited to the luncheon but I didn’t realize that I was going to receive the award.”

Each year the award is presented to a Palm Beach County woman who has not only helped herself toward a better future but created opportunities that empower other women.

Loop the Lake co-chair overcame adversity, now helps others photo

It also meant facing an unpleasant reality.

“They do a lot of work with domestic violence,” said Cayson. “I had to share things that I did not want to share. I did experience some domestic violence personally.”

Growing up in the small town of Pahokee, Cayson was the only girl in a family of five children being raised by her father who worked as a welder at Osceola Farms and the U.S. Sugar Corporation.

Loop the Lake co-chair overcame adversity, now helps others photo

“When I was 9 my mother moved away. Unfortunately she had alcohol issues so my father ended up raising five kids on his own,” said Cayson.

“We lived happily. I had a normal childhood other than not having a mother.”

Cayson watched as her father become a strong patriarch not only to her own family, but to a community.

“Everybody that came into town he would find them a job, or food or whatever they needed. He would help out, he instilled that in us — we needed to give. I really believe that it’s better to give than receive. I really gravitated to that.”

“We learned so much from him, what he did made us happy. I was so happy, I was always the happy kid. We had good neighbors, everybody knew every everyone. They helped us, we never had any major issues growing up. It was a happy little town.”

During her high school years, life took a turn.

“I quit school and got married right out of high school,” said Cayson. “I didn’t finish my last year and had two boys and ended up divorcing when my kids were little, there were some issues with domestic violence with my ex-husband, but I persevered and went back to school, raised my kids on my own out there in the Glades.”

Cayson graduated from Barry University with a bachelor’s of science in public administration. She went on to receive her master’s in organizational leadership from Palm Beach Atlantic University and is working on her Ph.D. in health services from Walden University hoping to finish by December.

It’s no coincidence that she chose a career based on helping people.

“I started off working for the health department in health education – the majority of my career. I’ve been with the Health Care District for 21 years and counting.”

Today Cayson is married to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Trevor Cayson and is a government relations specialist at the Health Care District.

Cayson spends a lot of time serving the community in organizations including the Palm Beach County Commission’s Citizen Advisory Board on Health & Human Services and Emergency Medical Services, the Pahokee Rotary Club and the Belle Glade Lions Club.

Cayson also serves on the board of the Boynton Beach-based Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County and has been a board member since 2010. She is co-chair of Loop the Lake for Literacy one of the coalition’s annual ‘fun’raisers. The cycling event at Port Mayaca shows off one of her hometown’s natural beauties, Lake Okeechobee. Bicyclists can choose to do either a 14-, 34-, 68- or 115-mile ride. Last year the event raised $85,000. This year’s goal $90,000.

“Last year I did the 14-mile but it felt like 34,” said Cayson. “I am a native of Pahokee but I have never had been out on the lake that far riding. It’s joyful, peaceful a beautiful ride.”

For more information about the Loop the Lake cycling event on Feb. 6 visitwww.literacypbc.org or call 561-279-9103.

Q&A

What are you reading now?

“The Light in the Ruins” by Chris Bohjalian, the Read Together Palm Beach County 2016 book.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching “The Big Bang Theory” with my husband.

What’s you favorite junk food?

French fries

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Ironically, Donald Trump.

Who do you admire most?

My father, Antonio Fernandez

What’s playing on your iPod?

A mixture of country, ‘80 to ‘90s and Spanish music.

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

My iPhone, a good novel and my lipstick!

What is your favorite novie?

“You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Who is your favorite actor?

Denzel Washington

Need to make a difference led former corrections officer to teaching

October 1, 2015 on 1:10 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Terreca Mincey-Walkes, 39

Award-winning teacher Terreca Mincey-Walkes grew up in Pahokee, graduated from Pahokee High School and was Miss Pahokee 1994, so there was no question where she was going to bring her skills when she decided to become a teacher.

“I wanted to come back and instill my pride in the students,” said Mincey-Walkes.

Mincey-Walkes began her teaching career at Pahokee Middle High in 2008 as an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher. In 2010, she became an Intensive Reading teacher, but the 39-year-old, Canal Point resident actually honed some of her skills working as a corrections officer at Martin Correctional facility in Indiantown.

Terreca Mincey-Walkes with author James Patterson, who visited her class in December 2013 and invited her and 12 students to lunch at his home in Palm Beach.

Terreca Mincey-Walkes with author James Patterson, who visited her class in December 2013 and invited her and 12 students to lunch at his home in Palm Beach.

“I was a corrections officer for ten years, seeing all of the young people coming in to the prison system, I just wanted a change. I wanted to be more of a positive influence to the young people coming up. I wanted to show them they could be better than what the system had for them.”

Mincey-Walkes had originally pursued a degree in elementary education, but then became involved in corrections. She also worked with kids, serving as a youth facility counsellor at a private facility affiliated with the Department of Juvenile Justice. Later she went back to Barry University to get her bachelor’s.

Her time spent working with prisoners gives her an almost sixth sense when it comes to kids and trouble, she said.

“I attempt to take the students that are labeled trouble makers under my wing and devote more time and attention to them. I try to get them to love to read. If they can learn to love to read I think that can deter negative interactions in the community.”

Her commitment to her students didn’t go unnoticed and Principal Michael Aronson nominated her for the Scholastic Outstanding Educator award.

“That’s how my name got in the pool,” said Mincey-Walkes. “It’s based on your students growth in Lexile scores, which measures reading ability, for the year. A lot of my students showed a large amount of growth in the Read 180 Program, which is a program for struggling readers. It helps them build fluidity, monitors their comprehension and tracks their Reading Counts Points, which they get by reading independently, book on their Lexile level.”

This past June, Mincey-Walkes was named a 2015 Scholastic Outstanding Educator. There are only four winners nationwide – one reading award each for an elementary, middle and high school teacher and another overall for math.

Mincey-Walkes got to spend four days at the Atlanta Marriot attending the Read 180 and System 44 Professional Learning Strand at the 2015 Model Schools Conference. She also received $1,200 and a Read 180 Xtra Collection for her classroom.

Mincey-Walkes said that she’s all about celebrating success so she used the money to spoil the hardworking kids with a pizza party and some incentives to keep reading – gift cards to those with the biggest leaps in Lexile Scores.

“You have to show kids plenty of love,” said Mincey-Walkes. “That’s one thing that helps to deter them from negativity, letting them know someone cares for them. As a teacher we’re there with them half the day. I make sure my kids know that every day. I’m conscious of that.”

Q&A

What’s on your nightstand?

I am currently reading “Money Hungry” by Sharon G. Flake and “The Maximum Ride” series by James Patterson with my book club students.

What’s your favorite book of all time and who is your favorite author?

My favorite book of all time is “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett; my favorite author is Sister Souljah

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I enjoy sea glass hunting because of the thrill of finding unique and antique pieces of glass. I often feel guilty because of the hours of alone time and the serene beach setting.

What’s your favorite junk food?

I love the fried pickles from Buffalo Wild Wings.

If you could have dinner with anyone – who would it be?

If she was still with us today, I would have dinner with my mother. She was always making us laugh with a joke of the day. Oh my, such fond memories!

Who do you admire most?

My father is who I admire the most. His work ethics, dedication to family and values, helped to mold me into the person I am today.

What’s playing on your iPod?

I love gospel. Yolanda Adams is one of my favorite artists. I feel blessed when I hear her words of encouragement and praises of inspiration.

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

A flint, water, a spile.

Literacy is personal for Grown Up Spelling Bee participant

September 10, 2015 on 10:24 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Amanda Lundergan, 32

Attorney Amanda Lundergan has faced her fair share of pressure as managing attorney for Ice Legal in Royal Palm Beach.

Attorney Amanda Lundergan is a board member of the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach county and a participant in the organization’s annual Great Grown Up Spelling Bee, which this year is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Attorney Amanda Lundergan is a board member of the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach county and a participant in the organization’s annual Great Grown Up Spelling Bee, which this year is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Lundergan has argued hundreds of foreclosure, complex litigation cases, trials, depositions and appeals. At age 26 she was one of the youngest attorneys to argue a case before the Florida Supreme Court. Soon she’ll face another, somewhat more manageable challenge – The Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County’s 24th Great Grown Up Spelling Bee which will take place on Oct. 15, at the Harriet Himmel Theater at CityPlace in West Palm Beach.

“Some teams take it very seriously,” said Lundergan. “The first time it was pretty intimidating when we went in there.”

A veteran of the Bee, Lundergan will be back for her third try.

“Every year we just hope that we’re not the first team eliminated,” said Lundergan. “If we’re not the first team eliminated we know we’ve made a good showing — we’re good.”

For the 32-year-old Lake Worth resident, who also sits on the board of the Boynton Beach-based coalition, literacy is something she takes personally.

“When I was in first grade I struggled with reading and almost wasn’t moved on to second grade,” said Lundergan. “That summer I worked with a tutor and skipped two grade levels in reading. Ever since, reading has become a passion not just in my profession but my free time. Being able to provide that opportunity to families and individuals who may not otherwise have the access is really a wonderful thing.”

Lundergan grew up in Corning, N.Y., south of the Finger Lakes. She received a B.A. in political science from Saint John Fisher College, graduating magna cum laude in 2005. She earned her law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law, graduating with a certificate in environmental law. She also received a certificate for volunteering over 125 hours of community service to Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity.

She joined Ice Legal in 2010.

“What drew me to Ice Legal is that they’re very much into giving back to the community.”

Lundergan took that spirit and ran, spearheading the firm’s pro bono efforts by holding an open house on a Saturday. The firm interviewed people all day and took on 25 cases, gratis.

“During the height of the foreclosures, I would be in court and saw a lack of representations. The majority of the people couldn’t afford an attorney. They were getting railroaded.”

Representatives of the firm would approach people at court on the spot and offer free service.

“We’d literally have five minutes to get up to speed and be prepared to represent them.”

Lundergan was fresh out of law school when Ice let her argue a preeminent foreclosure case, of Pino v. Bank of New York Mellon, before the Florida Supreme Court.

“It was the first oral argument I ever did. Tom (Thomas Erskine Ice), the owner of the firm thought I’d do a good job. I had argued hundred of trials and motions. I got to run with it. It was a phenomenal experience. I was terrified. When we walked out the stairs were covered with reporters.”

Like a scene from a great court drama, Lundergan walked in to a packed courtroom and faced the opposition, ten lawyers.

“It was a David versus Goliath atmosphere, I was hoping I wouldn’t throw up,” she said.

Recently promoted from administrative attorney to managing attorney, Lundergan focuses mainly on appeals and civil litigation.

For more information on the Grownup Spelling Bee and The Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach visit, www.literacypbc.org; or call 561-279-9103.

Q&A

What are you reading now?

I read a lot of highly technical documents at work so at home I tend to read for fun. Right now I’m reading James Patterson’s “Women’s Murder Club” series, I’m on book five.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I am a terrible flier. But I love the show, “When Plane’s Crash.” I can’t get enough of it. It cannot be healthy for my fear of flying.

What’s you favorite junk food?

It’s really not a junk food but I love pickles. It’s a weird family trait. We all do. We actually gift jars of pickles to one another as presents. Last year I bought everyone pickle ornaments for our Christmas trees. My family is going to be so embarrassed I’m telling people this.

If you could have dinner with anyone – who would it be?

My family! They are all in upstate New York and I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like so having them around for dinner would be great. Plus I wouldn’t have to cook.

Who do you admire most?

I admire people who are really passionate about what they do. You can always tell because they light up when they talk about it; whether it be their career or a hobby.

What music do you listen to?

I listen to my parents’ generation of music, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd. I saw the Steve Miller Band not too long ago, which was a great concert but my boyfriend and I were probably the youngest people there.

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

Sunscreen, a good book and a toothbrush. I would go crazy not being able to brush my teeth.

What is your favorite movie?

“Fried Green Tomatoes”

What is something most people don’t know about you?

People think I’m an only child, probably because I grew up as an only child, but they’d be surprised to know I’m really an older sister to my brother Riley and sister Sarah who are both in elementary school!

Animal-loving couple volunteers time to help shelter animals

August 27, 2015 on 3:07 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments
MEET YOUR NEIGHBORS: Lorrie Browne, 46; Tim Chance, 43

Lorrie Browne and Tim Chance of Wellington run a business together and keep busy with their four furry friends — 12-year-old Weimaraners Roxie and Gunther; Cash, 3, a border collie mix; and foster dog, Tasha, 7, a mixed breed — all while spending time volunteering for Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League and Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control.

Animal lovers Lorrie Browne and Tim Chance volunteer with Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League and Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control. With them is foster dog Tasha.

Animal lovers Lorrie Browne and Tim Chance volunteer with Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League and Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control. With them is foster dog Tasha.

The couple met online on match.com 12 years ago. Chance lived in Orlando and Browne in Wellington. After talking on the phone for two months, they felt they knew each other pretty well.

After that things began to slide into place.

“I had been running my business (Lorrie Brown Interiors) for 10 years when I met him,” said Browne. “He was in sales when we got married then he went back to grad school. When he was done my business had grown so much.”

Browne needed a hand, and Chance was the perfect applicant.

“I’d never found anyone that I thought would add value and connect with my clients until I met Tim and he was a natural,” said Browne.

It also seemed to fit their different personality types. Browne’s more the introverted artist working quietly in their home office, handling client relations, finance and the design. While the more extroverted Chance handles vendor relations, project management and customer service.

But what may have sealed the deal was a certain animal attraction. Browne knew Chance was the one when he passed the Emma test.

“I had a Weimaraner named Emma I had gotten before I met Tim, the only guy I ever dated that she loved, so I knew he was good,” said Browne. “When she passed away suddenly seven years ago, the house was way to quiet. Tim gave me the space to see when I would get a new dog.”

Together they adopted another Weimaraner, Roxie, from a puppy mill in Kentucky who would have been euthanized if she not been rescued. Apparently she was no longer a productive breeder.

This proved to be an eye-opening experience that prompted the couple to learn more about animal welfare and they decided to become more involved. Browne spent the next three years volunteering at a local limited admission shelter learning about rescue. She helped introduced an ordinance in Wellington that banned the retail sale of dogs and cats that passed in January 2014.

Last year Browne began volunteering at Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control and Chance joined her in January. The couple, along with other dedicated volunteers helped make a play group program that had been newly implemented at the shelter a more regular part of the dogs’ enrichment.

“It’s a program started by Aimee Sadler called Dogs Playing for Life (dogsplayingforlife.com), said Browne. “Basically the concept is that if you let shelter dogs play together they’ll learn socialization, they’ll burn energy off, they’ll be less anxious — it helps them become more adoptable.”

Chance has become such a believer, he went onto become a play group leader and is now helping the folks at Peggy Adams develop play groups there.

“The benefits we’ve seen in the last seven months at Animal Care & Control is really incredible,” said Chance. “You’ll see a dog that is shy and unsure of himself and after two to three play groups then becomes very adoptable.”

Chance explained that some dogs that are considered to be a little too aggressive for play group are actually isolated but in an area where they can safely watch the play group. Then they are brought into play group, where other dogs basically teach socialization skills to their peers. Because of this, somewhat anxious, anti-social dogs can become socialized and therefore adoptable – a life saved.

The couple has also become Adoption Ambassadors where they take a dog from Peggy Adams and bring it into their family, further socializing the dog. Chance said that it speeds up the adoption process. When the couple takes it out in public places, the dog wears a vest letting people know that it’s up for adoption.

For Browne it’s a win-win. They not only find a home for the dog, but usually it’s through some connection, through friends or on social media.

“We get to choose the home,” said Browne. “We’re having a conversation with the adopters, meeting them in person and allowing them to interact with our foster dog, sharing their habits, their personality. The last two dogs were adopted by friends of friends. Afterward they friended us on Facebook and we get to see the dog in the new home.”

So far they’ve found homes for three dogs in three months.

The couple’s latest effort is a big push to help make the Second Annual Countdown 2 Zero event achieve its goal of being the biggest one day adoption event in the County – the goal: finding homes for 500 pets – dogs, cats and guinea pigs.

The free event that takes place on Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Countdown 2 Zero brings together dozens of local animal rescues to save lives. Last year’s event found homes for 300 animals.

For more information about the event, visit www.countdown2zero.org.

Tim Chance

Q&A

What are you reading now?

“Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Listening to ’70s soft rock

What’s you favorite junk food?

Chocolate chip cookies

If you could have dinner with anyone – who would it be?

Steve Martin

Who do you admire most?

Malala Yousafzai

What’s playing on your iPod?

Acid jazz classics

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

Water, food, tent

Lorrie Browne

Q&A

What are you reading?

“The Road to Character” by David Brooks

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens.”

What’s you favorite junk food?

Chocolate chip cookies

If you could have dinner with anyone – who would it be?

My grandfathers who both passed before I was born.

Who do you admire most?

The Dalai Lama

What’s playing on your iPod?

George Ezra station on Pandora

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

Rope, flint stone, knife

Fire-rescue veteran turns to CrossFit to unlock his, others’ potential

July 2, 2015 on 7:00 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

What do superheroes do when they take off their capes? They fight for other superheroes. That’s what firefighter/paramedic, John Lupoli a 13-year veteran of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, plans on doing this weekend when he kicks off his fitness challenge War Games to benefit veterans charities 22 Until None and I Am Adaptive.

John and wife Ellie. ACES (Athletics, Community Service and Education) Student Leadership presented John with an award for Servant Leadership and Patriotism in April.

John and wife Ellie. ACES (Athletics, Community Service and Education) Student Leadership presented John with an award for Servant Leadership and Patriotism in April.

War Games will take placeSunday at the Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, and pits the four branches of the military against each other in a CrossFit-style competition. Civilians can also get in on the fun participating in their own divisions: Civilian Elite Athletes, Average Joe’s and Adaptive Athletes.

John and wife Ellie. ACES (Athletics, Community Service and Education) Student Leadership presented John with an award for Servant Leadership and Patriotism in April.

The prize: bragging rights and dollars earned for a two good causes.

“22 Until None’s mission is to raise awareness and diminish and eliminate soldier suicides,” said Lupoli. “We lost 4,000 in Iraq. We’re losing 22 a day to suicide, that’s over 8,000 a year.”

I Am Adaptive helps people with prosthetics, neurological deficits, traumatic brain injuries or paralysis gain inclusion into all aspects of sporting ventures.

John Lupoli working out at CrazyTrain CrossFit, West Palm Beach.

Lupoli himself comes from a long line of superheroes stemming back three generations, including his dad, John Edward Lupoli Sr., who served in the Navy during the Vietnam conflict; his grandfather, Philip Francis Tighe, a chaplain and medic during World War II; and his great-grandfather, George Howard MacDonald, quartermaster second class on the USS Isla de Cuba during the Spanish-American War. His father’s cousin, Albert Francis Lupoli, a sergeant in the Army, was killed in action.

Lupoli has a deep respect for the armed forces.

“People take this country for granted,” he said. “They have no idea the freedom we were born into that was not given to us without a cost. To maintain this freedom requires sacrifice. That’s what these guys do for us.”

By day, the mild-mannered Lupoli, 40, spends time taking care of the community; in his off time, he’s committed to his gym, CrazyTrain CrossFit in West Palm Beach.

“If I’m not running calls at the fire department, I’m at the gym coaching or working on bettering the community. Any free time I have is dedicated to my amazing wife, Ellie, and two boys, Knox, 6, and Juda, 4.”

The Loxahatchee resident has always been athletic.

“I grew up in Cooper City. I attended Cooper City High School. I played football and wrestled,” he said. “I went to Florida State University where I received a BA in English literature.”

But 13 years in fire-rescue takes a toll on the body. Lupoli has suffered plenty of damage, including a herniated disk in his neck, two knee injuries, a laceration to his right eye and a heart procedure.

“CrossFit has given me my life back,” said Lupoli. “When I started doing CrossFit, it got me back in shape, restored my rage of motion, my energy level. I wanted my kids to experience that so I got my CrossFit certification.”

“I enjoyed it so much,” he said. “One day my partner, Jenny Carter, showed me a space downtown, it was so perfect. I had no intention of opening a gym.”

CrazyTrain CrossFit celebrated its first birthday in May.

“Unlocking a person’s potential and helping them find the ability to thrive is empowering,” Lupoli said. “Inside each and every one of us is a beast that is caged by frail and fragile bars.”

For more information visit, http://crazytraincrossfit.com/

 

 

Q&A

What is your favorite book of all time?

Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” or the Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Exotic tropical gardening. “When I’m home, I want to feel like I am somewhere else.”

Who do you admire most?

I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk. He builds platforms. The difference between a dream and a goal is “doing something about it.”

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Leonardo da Vinci

What three places do you want to travel to?

Cinque Terre, Italy; Madagascar; Bali

Glades Central valedictorian eyes politics as way to help community

June 11, 2015 on 3:47 am | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

Karen Benitez has been on a roll of firsts lately.

As valedictorian at Glades Central High School, Benitez is first in her class, which came as no surprise as she was notified in her junior year that she held the top spot.

Karen Benitez is the 2015 valedictorian of Glades Central High School.

Karen Benitez is the 2015 valedictorian of Glades Central High School.

“When I found out I was really the valedictorian, I did feel a sense of relief,” said Benitez. “I was so worried about being passed that I even considered taking a few extra AP classes online.”

Benitez and the salutatorian, Oralia Monroy, were the first in the school to receive Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program diplomas. AICE was implemented at Glades during her sophomore year.

Besides tough AICE classes Benitez had a mix of Advanced Placement courses and was dual -enrolled at Palm Beach State College, earning 13 credits by taking four classes. She finished with a 3.86 GPA and an HPA of 4.96.

Along with a rigorous academic schedule, Benitez managed to squeeze in some extra circular fun. She was active in student government serving as president for both her junior and senior class. She was a member of the National Honor Society, and participated in the Leadership Academy Migrant Program which offers leadership development and services for students in the migrant community. She was on the yearbook committee, and a participant of POPS – the Professional Opportunity Program for Students, teaching students basic job hunting and life skills like budgeting money.

This summer the 18-year-old Belle Glade resident will mark another first when she becomes the first in her family to attend college.

Benitez applied and was accepted to the University of Florida, University of South Florida and Florida State University. She chose FSU in Tallahassee, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the state capital. She sees this as an opportunity to learn about government and maybe garner an internship that will help her achieve her ultimate goal – congresswoman.

“I love American government and history. I want to go into politics after I get my undergraduate degree, attend law school and become an attorney.”

Benitez knows where she comes from, and understands that helping her community means changing immigration laws.

“In my town I hear stories about illegal immigrants going to the local gas station and cashing their checks,” said Benitez. “Thieves come in, they know they’re illegal and they rob them. They feel they have no rights, they’re scared of the police. I feel so bad, I wish I could do something. As a congresswoman, maybe I can find a way to help.”

Benitez’ own parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico when they were 15 years old. She watched both work their way up. Her mother Maria Camacho worked in the fields, today she’s a custodian. Her father Jose Benitez has worked in the sugar cane industry for 20 years.

Benitez is well aware of how others see Belle Glade.

“Many people outside my town see it as a gateway to the NFL. Sports are a big thing, they don’t value academics. I wanted to show people that yes, I am from Belle Glade, we are more than sports, my town creates more than sugar cane and NFL athletes. I wanted to inspire my fellow graduates and tell people outside our town that we’re much more than that.”

At graduation, she spoke from her heart about her community, peppering the commencement address with the word potential.

“Not many people from my town believe that they can be someone. They feel stuck, but I wanted to inspire my community that they do have potential to grow and succeed, all they have to do is recognize and use their potential. Belle Glade has the potential be as successful as any other big city such as West Palm, New York, Miami, Los Angeles.”

Q&A

What are you reading now?

“The Orange Houses” by Paul Griffin

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching reality TV shows

What’s your favorite junk food?

Cheetos Hot Fries

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Liam Neeson

Who do you admire the most?

My mother. She is a very hardworking, intelligent and independent woman.

What’s playing on my iPod?

I listen to just about everything. Hip-hop, rap, country, pop, Latin etc. However, my favorite type of music is hip-hop.

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island.

A multi-tool pocket knife, matches, and a tent.

Time management key to success for Lake Worth High co-valedictorian

June 4, 2015 on 6:08 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

The Moise family may have set a record over Lake Worth High producing the school’s last two valedictorians.

Lens Moise, co-valedictorian of Lake Worth High for 2015, played basketball for the school in his freshman, sophomore and senior years. This year the team finished as runners up in the district championship.

Lens Moise, co-valedictorian of Lake Worth High for 2015, played basketball for the school in his freshman, sophomore and senior years. This year the team finished as runners up in the district championship.

Last year Marc Moise graduated top of his class, this year his younger brother Lens was co-valedictorian, sharing the title with Chidera Nwosu, who skipped her junior year.

“They have a younger brother, Jason, and right now he’s in the top ten of his class, but he’s only in his freshman year,” said Terence X. Hart, assistant principal. “I think it’s amazing – back to back years, it could be a record.”

What are his parents, Jeannot and Marie Moise, feeding those kids?

“Just regular Haitian food like rice and beans and spinach and so forth,” said Lens Moise. “My parents are very proud,” said. “My mom tells me all the time that when she goes out to the store people see her and say, ‘hey, that’s the lady who has two valedictorian sons in consecutive years.’ That makes her very proud.”

Moise himself has a lot to be proud of finishing up with a 3.98 GPA and an 4.85 HPA. He was dual-enrolled at Palm Beach State, taking eight courses and earning 25 credit hours.

“I didn’t want to go too hard,” said the 17-year-old Lantana resident. “You’re only in high school one time.”

For this one time thing, Moise immersed himself fully, taking on tough Advanced Placement, Advanced International Certificate of Education and college classes as well as a full load of extra-circular activities including basketball during his freshman, sophomore and senior years. This year they were runners up in the district championship. He ran track in his junior year. This year he was treasurer of the Wall Street Society, a club that teaches kids about the stock market. He was also president of the Haitian Honor Society.

How did he do it? Time management.

“Basically you have to budget your time wisely,” said Moise. “You can’t spend too much time goofing off. You have to make sure you do your work first and your extra-circular activities next – basically it’s about prioritizing your life.”

Apparently it worked. Moise was accepted to Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University and Howard University. This fall, he’ll be heading to FSU in Tallahassee.

“I chose FSU because I like the campus. It’s one of the oldest, best universities in Florida,” he said.

Moise said he fell in love with the school when he took part in a winter break basketball tournament there.

“I got to see the campus … I got to see all the hills. I knew it was the place that I wanted to spend the next four years at.”

Moise plans to major in biomedical science and wants to become a physician, he’s just not sure what kind of doctor he’d like to be.

“Right now I’m leaning toward neuroscience,” he said. “There’s a whole lot we don’t understand about the brain and I want to explore that further and help people.The mind is such an enigma. We don’t understand how to find a cure for the mentally disturbed or challenged. I want to research that and one day find a cure for Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy – illnesses like that.”

Q&A

What are you reading now?

Currently I’m reading the Bible and in the book of Romans.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasure is watching this forensic show called, “I (Almost) Got Away with It” – basically on how criminals escape justice but get caught in the end.

What’s you favorite junk food?

Buffalo chicken wings

If you could have dinner with anyone – who would it be?

Barack Obama

Who do you admire most?

I admire my mother the most.

What’s playing on your iPod?

I have old school rap playing like Slick Rick, Warren G, 2Pac, and Biggie.

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

My phone, my basketball, and my Bible.

Lake Worth High co-valedictorian eyes life as pediatric neurosurgeon

May 28, 2015 on 6:18 pm | In As Seen In..., Palm Beach Post | No Comments

The police escort out of history class and down to the assistant principal’s office at Lake Worth High School might have been a little over the top for 16-year-old Chidera Nwosu.

Chidera Nwosu, the 2015 co-valedictorian of Lake Worth High School, with her awards at the Senior Awards Ceremony.

Chidera Nwosu, the 2015 co-valedictorian of Lake Worth High School, with her awards at the Senior Awards Ceremony.

“I thought I was in trouble, said Nwosu. “I was concerned. It was during history, seventh hour toward the end of the day – when I got to his office, he told us about being co-valedictorians.

Nwosu was so excited she immediately called her dad.

Co-valedictorians – Lens Carlin Moise, who finished first in their class through four years of high school; and Nwosu who did it in three years.

“In all honesty, I feel that we both deserve it,” said Nwosu. “We earned it. It was actually decided by the district and principal I believe. Since I had skipped the 11th grade and jumped into the val position, it was unfair to the young man that had been there for the entire four years.”

Nwosu finishes up with 4.0 GPA, an HPA of 4.9 and 39 college credits to her name.

Nwosu said she’ll graduate with one full year of college under her belt. She did it by being dual-enrolled at Palm Beach State College.

“I took summer classes at the college and throughout the school year I took college at night from 6 to 10 p.m. once a week. Sophomore year I worked to the max. Actually there was no time to breathe — there were college classes and Florida Virtual School (FLVS) as well as AP (Advanced Placement) classes.”

This may be why she skipped the 11th grade all together. She also skipped the third grade.

Nwosu is sure that it’s this kind of dedication and work ethic that will see her not only through undergraduate college but medical school. She wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

She applied to Florida State University, University of Florida, University of Miami. As for out of state, she applied to Boston University, University of Chicago, Syracuse University and New York Institute of Technology and was accepted into all seven schools with full scholarships.

This fall, Nwosu will head south to UM.

“Actually I’ve been looking at it since my freshman year,” said Nwosu. “Their neuroscience department is remarkable – what drew me in is that you’re able to merge different college degrees. I have varied interests – neuroscience, molecular biology, microbiology, and a minor in health management and U Miami will let you merge these and let you finish in four years.”

Although one would think someone so science-oriented would be all about the left brain, in Nwosu’s case, you’d be wrong, her right brain has also taken her places.

“I prefer science,” said Nwosu. “Even my art often correlates with abstract ideas of the scientific world – but I love writing poems.”

Nwosu has had three poems published: “It is a Sin” published in Great Poems of the Western World (2014); “Tally Marks,” Eber and Wein Publishing (2014) and “A Blank Mind” which will be featured in American High School Poems, My World.

Q&A

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching re-runs of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and Bill Cosby on Youtube.

What’s you favorite junk food?

Soft baked pretzels

If you could have dinner with anyone – who would it be?

Thomas Jefferson

Who do you admire most?

My mother – Helen. She has a heart of gold.

What’s playing on your iPod?

Mr Probz … Kenny Rogers,

Indian rock, R&B.

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

Tent, non-perishable foods, an encyclopedia

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