Top Seniors in Leon County High Schools demonstrate Academic Achievement and Community Service

Leon County’s most outstanding high school seniors were selected for the 18th year as the 146 finalists in 2023 Best & Brightest Awards, which recognizes and honors public and private school students who excel both academically and in service to their school and community. The finalists from each school underwent an interview process culminating in the Best & Brightest Awards Ceremony, to be held Wednesday, May 17th, in which countywide winners will be announced.

“These 146 students truly are the best and brightest of Leon County. Their dedication to service, academics and their community is remarkable,” said Laura Rogers, program director of World Class Schools which is a program of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of the Best & Brightest Program. “Year after year, I am amazed by these students’ commitment to succeed and achieve their goals. I am so excited for them to have the opportunity to connect and meet with other high-achieving best and brightest students across Leon County at our awards ceremony in May.”

The Best & Brightest Awards program, now in its eighteenth year, has awarded more than $867,000 in scholarships to over 2430 private and public high school seniors since its inception in 2006. The Best & Brightest Awards program’s premier sponsor is Envision Credit Union in partnership with Leon County Schools, World Class Schools of Leon County, The Tallahassee Democrat, Sachs Media, Gay and Ron Sachs, HUB International, Leon County Government, The City of Tallahassee, Comcast, Nabors Giblin & Dickerson, AT&T, and Walmart.

“The academic and service achievements of these high school seniors reflect their character and commitment,” said Ron Sachs, chairman of Sachs Media and founder of the Best & Brightest Awards. “Their dedication to selfless service is inspiring, and they are poised to be great leaders in diverse fields — providing a lot of positive hope for the future of our communities, state, nation and world. They have earned this stellar recognition by all that they’ve done.”

On February 25th, panels of select community leaders interviewed the finalists on subject areas such as public speaking, technology, and science to determine the winners for the countywide awards. This year, the 146 finalists will be evaluated on their academic achievement, leadership, and community service. A winner, runner-up, and honorable mention recipient will be named from each category.

To reach this point, finalists have demonstrated a record of academic achievement and expertise in one of 15 competitive categories. First-place winners in each category will receive scholarships of $1,500; runners-up will be awarded $750; and honorable mention recipients will receive $500. All other finalists will receive a $100 scholarship in recognition of their superlative accomplishments.

In addition to celebrating high school students, the Best & Brightest Awards program recognizes younger Leon County students. The program conducts an Eighth Grade Essay Contest available to all middle schools in the Leon area. Three students will be chosen and win awards ranging from $100 to $500. The contest provides middle school students with opportunities to expand their experience and get awarded for it. The essay helps encourage them to reflect on the importance of community involvement and academic achievement as they enter their high school careers.

Another feature of the program, first introduced eleven years ago, is the Spirit of the Best & Brightest Award, commemorating the late Brooks Rogers. Presented to one of the top Best & Brightest winners who most exemplifies a deep commitment to civic duty and service, the student will receive a $2,500 scholarship in addition to his or her primary scholarship award winnings.

This year’s finalists for the 2023 Best & Brightest Awards are:

Peyton Crumpler (Maclay), Malcolm Gambles II (Rickards), Sneha Giri (Lincoln), Benjamin Gjendem (SAIL), Jael Meyer (Community Leadership Academy), Citlali Patino (Leon), Jessie Powell (Chiles), Sofia Rios (FSUS), Zakiya Schwender (Godby)

Jaysoni Beachum (FSUS), Jordan Boulware (Community Leadership Academy), Shane Croston (Maclay), Jake Edwards (Rickards), Jonah Hendricks (Leon County Home School), McKinley Hill (NFC), Mackenzie Kittel (Leon), Stephen Machado (Community Christian), Corey Stavres (SJPII), Skyla Sutherland (Lincoln), Jarron Taylor-Wimbush (SAIL), Wyatt Townsend (Chiles), Rashard White (FAMU DRS), Esrael Yant (Godby)

Jamal Barkley (SAIL), John Gay (Leon County Home School), Kaylin Jean-Louis (FSUS), Mandy Liu (Leon), Amelia Mohr (Lincoln), Lucille Whitehead (Maclay), Jasmine Xie (Rickards), Julia Zhu (Chiles)

Marisa Abarca (Lincoln), Michael Atkins (SAIL), Julian Berrios (Leon), Leila Evans (FAMU DRS), Tanmay Haldiya (Rickards), Jeremy Roberts (Community Leadership Academy), Madelyn Scaringe (Chiles), Heaven Ward (Maclay), Andrew Watson (FSUS)

Drama & Performing Arts:
Elspeth Ann Abbott (FSUS), Lily Byington (Chiles), Mackenzie Clement (North Florida Christian), Jermaine Edwards (Leon), Kayla Garland (Godby), Nichols Griffith (Community Leadership Academy), Jenna Jeon (Rickards), Samuel King (FAMU DRS), Lila Knowlton (Lincoln), Finley Tanenbaum (SAIL), Merrell Webster (Maclay)

English & Language Arts:
Jenna Adams (Maclay), Avery Cronin (Chiles), Faeryn Gainey (Godby), Emma Gorham (North Florida Christian), Jordan Myatt (SAIL), Leah Pagan (Lincoln), Camille Resavage (Leon), Molly Russell (FSUS), Emily Taylor (Rickards)

Journalism & Media Production:
Shania Brown (Godby), Margaret Giles (Leon), Krysten Hood (FAMU DRS), Robert Hosay (Maclay), Molly Kilcrease (FSUS), Catherine Lucas (SJP II), Peyton Mears (Lincoln), Cody Osborne (SAIL), Parker Penn (Chiles), Akhil Walia (Rickards)

Bryan Alex (Lincoln), Oakley Deison (Maclay), Kyla Edwards (Community Christian), Major Hartman (Chiles), Julia Lehman (Leon), Atticus Miller (Leon), Rebecca Presnell (North Florida Christian), Katherine Roth (SAIL), Nia Terry (FSUS), Maisie Vickery (Godby), Amaya Waymon (Rickards), Brianne Weathers (Leon County Virtual School), Jordyn Webb (FAMU DRS)

Rachel Bethke (Maclay), Jacob Booeshaghi (Lincoln), Wesley Chen (Chiles), John Evans (Leon), Maximillian McJunkin (SAIL), Michael Rubin (FSUS), Karthik Vendula (Rickards), Saniah Warren (FAMU DRS)

Rachel Baek (Lincoln), Brandon Bourdeau (Chiles), Kameryn Casebonne (SAIL), Elijah Davis (Rickards), Ja’lona Edwards (Godby), Param Mehta (FSUS), Ashlynn Peebles (Community Christian), Emma Rodgers (Leon), Robert Wood (Maclay)

Public Speaking:
Hayden Center (FSUS), Ashby Culpepper (Leon), Shubham Dixit (Rickards), Kamya Ervin (FAMU DRS), Zamari Lewis (Lincoln), Jorden Marik (SAIL), Linse Lane Meyer (Chiles), Lauren Price (Maclay), Queenie Rene (Godby), Mary Grace Slemp (Community Christian)

Science & Health:
Aribah Ahmed (Rickards), Ja’Liyah Altieri (Godby), Sommer Goolsby (North Florida Christian), Clayton Knox (Maclay), Cyrus Nadizadeh (Chiles), Luxmi Narayan (FSUS), Christal Norman (FAMU DRS), Anne Osterhaus (Leon), Catherine Wigen (Lincoln), Mya Williams (SAIL)

Social Science:
Danny Alex (Rickards), Nyla Gray (Godby), Tallulah King (Leon), Alyssa Maleszewski (Lincoln), Isabel McDaniel (Maclay), Caliyah Pearson (FAMU DRS), Francisca Puiatti (FSUS), Janya Samuel (SAIL), Jessica Zheng (Chiles)

Dean Berrien (Godby), Miles Johnson (FAMU DRS), Ryan Kinney (FSUS), Jackson Kottkamp (Maclay), Sruthi Sentil (Rickards), Shilpa Shiju (Chiles), Matthew Tabet (SAIL), Grace Tran (Leon), Elan Wygodski (Lincoln)

World Languages:
Maya Brangaccio (Lincoln), Bryn Cintron (Chiles), Teresa Morgado (Maclay), Skylar Motiska (SAIL), Meenakshi Nalla (Rickards), Jaidan Neal (Godby), Shruthi Sankuratri (FSUS), Riane Williams (Leon)