Best & Brightest honors 45 scholarship winners in 2021 virtual program

From Tallahassee Democrat

The 16th Annual Best & Brightest Awards Ceremony took place on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Leon County School’s Aquilina Howell Building to award scholarships to highly deserving high school graduates for their leadership skills, academic accomplishments, and community-service involvement.

To abide by public safety protocols, the ceremony was held remotely and streamed live on Facebook. The exciting announcements in real-time still offered an experience of surprise for the students, families, school administration, and teachers.

Laura Rogers, Program Director of the Best & Brightest, said, “The schools select their most qualified students to go through a rigorous application and interview process by a panel of local professionals with years of experience in the field. 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 superlative accomplishments.”

The Tallahassee Democrat has partnered with the Best & Brightest since its inaugural year in 2006 to celebrate these students. About 80 students were given scholarships that year. This year, 161 seniors were carefully selected from local public and private high schools to be finalists in each of the 15 categories.

Envision Credit Union has underwritten the scholarships for the program since its inception, donating well over half a million dollars in scholarships.

“Supporting the Best & Brightest is part of our foundation as an education-based credit union,” said Dr. Cassandra J. Grayson, Chair of the Board of Envision. “Our philosophy of ‘people helping people’ is achieved by funding important programs like the Best and Brightest, which directly impacts the lives of these well-deserving students.”

Ron Sachs, President, and CEO of Sachs Media and creator of the Best & Brightest Awards program said since its launch, the program has recognized 2,788 students for their contributions to the Tallahassee community and given over $790,000 in scholarships.

“This program exists to recognize, respect, and reward outstanding high school senior leaders for their academic success and earnest commitment to service,” he said. “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 service a part of their own ethics and culture for life.”

Additionally, the Best & Brightest Eighth Grade Essay contest honored 61 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. Rohan Davidi, a Rickards High School student and the winner of the Mathematics category, was awarded the Spirit Award this year, which included an additional $2,500 in scholarship funds.

“At such a young age, Rohan is already an accomplished leader within his school and the greater Tallahassee community,” said Corey Simon, CEO of Volunteer Florida. “Volunteer Florida strives to encourage and celebrate models of civic engagement statewide, like Rohan, and I am extremely proud to recognize his exemplary service today 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.



Lena “Roman” Le – Chiles High School – Winner

Emma Bryson – Leon High School – Runner-Up

Mia Scott – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention


Terrance McPherson Jr. – Rickards High School – Winner

Daniel “DJ” Campbell – Leon High School – Runner-Up

De’Shawn Rucker – Godby High School – Honorable Mention


Isaiah Griffith – Godby High School – Winner

Johnny Liu – Leon High School – Runner-Up

Sabrina Zheng – Rickards High School – Honorable Mention


Sina Mollaei – Rickards High School – Winner

Nadia Collins – Leon High School – Runner-Up

Jonathan Witmer – SAIL High School – Honorable Mention

Drama & Performing Arts

Sam Scriven – Leon High School – Winner

Griffin Stanley – Florida State University School – Runner-Up

Joelie Campana – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention

English & Language Arts

Leah Mazur – Leon High School – Winner

Emily Butler – Chiles High School – Runner-Up

Kayla Jackson – FAMU Developmental Research School – Honorable Mention

Journalism & Media Production

Cooper Harrell – Lincoln High School – Winner

Maddelena Kaji – Leon High School – Runner-Up

Kacie Ross – Godby High School – Honorable Mention


Asia Alexander – Florida State University School – Winner

Michael Sweeney – Maclay School – Runner-Up

Genesis Yoshioka – Community Leadership Academy – Honorable Mention


Rohan Davidi – Rickards High School – Winner

David Yang – Chiles High School – Runner-Up

Xuan “Andrew” Li – Lincoln High School – Honorable Mention


Maxwell “Max” van Hoeij – Lincoln High School – Winner

Cecilia Malley – Leon High School – Runner-Up

Hannah Yang – Chiles High School – Honorable Mention

Public Speaking

Kendall Williams – Leon High School – Winner

Megan Peschl – Lincoln High School – Runner-Up

Kolbie O’Neal – Chiles High School – Honorable Mention

Science & Health

Spencer Gibbs – Maclay School – Winner

Seth Johnson – Florida State University School – Runner-Up

Khari Davis – Leon High School – Honorable Mention

Social Science

Sarah Toole – Leon County Virtual School – Winner

Zakari Nelson – FAMU Developmental Research School – Runner-Up

Daniela “Dani” Paredes – Maclay School – Honorable Mention


Tanusri Mandapati – Rickards High School – Winner

Hannah Gendusa – Chiles High School – Runner-Up

Kathryn “Katy” Merritt – Maclay School – Honorable Mention

World Languages

Sonu Patel – Maclay School – Winner

Isabella “Isa” St. Pierre-Charles – Leon High School – Runner-Up

Emily Sargent – Florida State University School – Honorable Mention

Eighth Grade Essay Contest

Angelina Veleta – Swift Creek Middle School – Winner

Caroline Cox – Leon County Home School – Runner Up

Nishi Nandineni – Fairview Middle School – Honorable Mention