From the Tallahassee Democrat
The 17th Annual Best & Brightest Awards Ceremony took place on Wednesday in Ruby Diamond Concert Hall after two years of a virtual presentation to award scholarships to highly deserving high school graduates for their leadership skills, academic accomplishments and community-service involvement.
The announcements in person were an energetic return to this countywide program, which kicks off the seniors’ celebrations through the month of May of their high school careers.
The Tallahassee Democrat has partnered with the Best & Brightest since its inaugural year in 2006 to celebrate these students and their achievements.
About 80 students were given scholarships during the program’s inaugural year. This year, 150 seniors were carefully selected from local public and private high schools to be finalists in each of the 15 categories.
“The schools choose their most qualified students to go through a rigorous application and interview process by a panel of local experts with years of experience in the field,” says Laura Rogers, Program Director of the Best & Brightest. “Out of all the finalists, three are chosen to be the winners of each category, for a total of 45 winners.”
Each winner receives a $1,500 scholarship and a trophy. Runners-up and honorable mentions receive scholarships of $750 and $500, respectively, and trophies.
All other finalists receive a $100 scholarship in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments.
Envision Credit Union has underwritten the scholarships for this program since its inception, gifting well over $600,000 in scholarships to these commendable students.
“Supporting the Best & Brightest and the students is just one part of our foundation as a credit union started by Educators,” says Dr. Cassandra J. Grayson, Chair of the Board of Envision. “Our philosophy of ‘people helping people’ is achieved by supporting our members and the communities where they live. The Best and Brightest directly impacts the lives of these well-deserving students for their career goals.”
Ron Sachs, President and CEO of Sachs Media and creator of the Best & Brightest Awards program, said since its launch in 2006, the program has recognized 2,984 students for their contributions to the Tallahassee community and given over $848,000 in scholarships.
“In the most prolonged, difficult era of our lives, these amazing young leaders persevered and positively powered through every major challenge in front of them – to reach such stunning heights of achievement in their academics and selfless service,” said Sachs. “The other mission of the program is to inspire younger students to embrace the example of every year’s group of ‘Best & Brightest’ leaders and to make a path of service toward their own ethics and culture for life.”
Additionally, the Best & Brightest Eighth Grade Essay contest honored 46 students who were the top three ranking essayists from their middle schools. Three students’ essays were then selected as the top winners who wrote about their experiences with helping others in the community. Those top winners received $100 to $500, and all essayists earned a certificate of recognition.
During the event, a special award was given — the Spirit of the Best & Brightest Award. Shreyas Kodela, a Rickards High School student and the winner of the Technology category, was awarded the Spirit Award this year, which included an additional $2,500 in scholarship funds.
“Shreyas is actively improving the lives of those around him while learning new skills, gaining experiences and enriching his own life by enriching the lives of those in need,” said Kim Hawkes, External Affairs Director of Volunteer Florida. “Volunteer Florida encourages and celebrates models of civic engagement statewide, like Shreyas, and I am extremely proud to recognize his exemplary service with the Excellence in Volunteerism Award.”
The Excellence in Volunteerism Award is one of the state of Florida’s volunteer recognition awards, presented to volunteers and organizations who go above and beyond in service to their community.
COMPLETE WINNERS LIST
- Sarah Caulley Soto – Maclay School – Winner
- Darell Williams – FAMU Developmental Research School – Runner Up
- Ann Nguyen – Florida State University School – Honorable Mention
- Lydia Hanlon – Leon County Home School – Winner
- Cailin Demps – Leon High School – Runner Up
- Emma Brice – North Florida Christian School – Honorable Mention
- Kiyle Gardner – Leon High School – Winner
- Kanene Nwokeji – Maclay School – Runner Up
- Uzo Otuonye – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention
- Rohan Chadha – Chiles High School – Winner
- George Nessim – Lincoln High School – Runner Up
- Joshua Israel – FAMU Developmental Research School – Honorable Mention
Drama & Performing Arts
- Shelby Watson – Maclay School – Winner
- Sibley Shippen – Leon High School – Runner Up
- Alani Beauchamp – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention
English & Language Arts
- Katerina Krizner – Maclay School – Winner
- Amelia Kraemer – Florida State University School – Runner Up
- Arria Haigler – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention
Journalism & Media Production
- Ananda Chatterjee – Rickards High School – Winner
- Peyton Gallant – Leon High School – Runner Up
- Gabby Giles – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention
- Evan Marty – SAIL High School – Winner
- Prabhas Kurapati – Rickards High School – Runner Up
- Britton Miller – Chiles High School – Honorable Mention