May 26, 2020 (Updated July 6, 2020) – One earned an associate’s degree in her junior year, and worked as a preschool teacher during her senior year. Another is a college-bound student who has earned more than $100,000 in scholarships. Still another is a student who overcame personal tragedy with the loss of both parents to power his way through school and is working toward becoming a merchant seamen.
These are just a few of the amazing members of the Class of 2020 getting ready to graduate and leap into a new season of their lives. Their stories will be featured in this “Class of 2020 Highlights” feature by Team Duval News. Each week, a new set of video profiles will be added to this page.
There are so many students with phenomenal stories. Thanks to school principals and staff who performed the difficult task of narrowing it down to one for each school. Thank you to the featured students who so graciously shared their stories. Lastly, thank you and congratulations to the entire Class of 2020 and their amazing accomplishments. Remember #ChooseStrength. The journey is just beginning!
Videos produced by Team Duval’s Brittany Jones and Vickie Pierre.
“Class of 2020 Highlights”
(New highlights added each week. Videos added this week: Atlantic Coast and Bridge to Success)
“It’s been a rocky road, a lot of hardships. But seeing myself now about to graduate, about to go to college – it feels good knowing all the stuff I’ve done was worth it.”
If anyone knows what it’s like to overcome, it’s A. Philip Randolph Career Academies Senior Martin Folsom. Despite being homeless and having spent time living in shelters with his mother, Folsom served as class president his freshman through senior year, and is is set to graduate at the top of his class as Valedictorian.
Folsom now plans to study Accounting and Finance at Valdosta State. Watch to learn more about what has kept him motivated in the midst of challenging times.
A positive attitude. A hard worker. Compassionate. Ask those closest to Alden Road Exceptional Student Center senior Emily Rials to describe her, and you’ll hear all of these traits – and so much more.
“She doesn’t give up. I mean, if she can’t do something, she doesn’t stop,” says Emily’s father, Jeff. “She keeps trying and trying until she does it.”
It’s for these reasons Emily’s parents say they look forward to seeing how she grows and develops after graduation. This fall, Emily plans to remain at Alden Road and will participate in the school’s post-graduate program.
“I used to always ask myself – why did I have to be this kid that grew up with no parents?”
Frankie Dennard has been through a lot. Not only did the Andrew Jackson senior lose his parents at a young age, but the grandmother who cared for him also grew ill, passing away recently. Despite facing many ups and downs, Dennard says he’s found purpose and a desire to help others. It’s a turnaround he says came with a lot of perseverance, and support from his school and community.
Denard now has his sights set on becoming a merchant seaman, as well as running his own business. He plans on attending FSCJ after graduation.
From having one of the highest GPAs in her class and to serving as Miss Atlantic Coast, senior Corinne Hentschel has a lot to proud of. But ask Corinne about her proudest moment, and she’ll speak to how she was able to rally students together for an important cause.
“I started a thing called Atlantic Coast Outfitters, which collected toiletries and whatever people could donate,” she says. “We packaged them up, and they were given out to – anonymously – homeless students at Atlantic Coast High School that maybe needed that sense of pride.”
Corinne says having the freedom to pursue her dreams makes her proud to be a graduate of Duval County Public Schools. Corinne will be attending Georgetown University this fall as a member on the diving team, as well as a Human Science major on a pre-med track.
A tight-knit community. Supportive teachers. Always there for you friends. Baldwin-Middle High senior Alex Flowers says that as he reflects upon his time in school, he can’t help but cherish the closeness of the Baldwin community.
“We have this unique opportunity where we get to grow up around the same people for quite a long time,” he says. “We get to spend time and grow together with the same friends we’ve had for years and years now.”
Flowers says that support system, coupled with hard work, was integral in him earning the top spot in his class as valedictorian. Flowers plans to move to Gainesville this summer to attend the University of Florida and study nursing.
Going into her senior year, Bridge to Success student Kymauri Jackson faced what some believed was an insurmountable challenge: she needed to complete a two-year foreign language requirement in just one year. If she didn’t fulfill the requirement, she risked not graduating on time.
“So, over time I kept motivating myself,” she says.
That motivation paid off. Kymauri persevered and is set to graduate with the Class of 2020. It’s a feat that not only impressed Bridge to Success staff, but also motivated her to continue pursuing any challenge that comes her way.
Kymauri plans on attending FSCJ with aspirations of becoming a nurse, as well as a businessperson who gives back to her community.
“…a lot of times I was having doubts that I would ever make it…”
Hana Kabil admits there were many times she considered giving up. As a student of Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts, she wasn’t always sure that she could keep up with the rigor or workload. But in the end, she didn’t gave up. Not only did Hana push on, but she also earned a spot among the school’s “top ten” – that is, graduating with one of the the ten highest GPAs in her class.
Hana will be attending the Honors College at the University of North Florida and plans to major in Biomedical Sciences.
“I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world!”
Diagnosed with a rare condition known as the “Nutcracker Syndrome” and recovering from a major surgery, Abigail Webber describes the past four years as some of the hardest in her life.
But ask her if there’s anything that she’s been through that she would change, and Webber says “not for the world.” She remembers with excitement making it through her first full day of school at Douglas Anderson and says she was “over the moon.”
Webber is proud of her time at Douglas Anderson and especially proud of her fellow graduates. In her high school career, she was a member of the Spanish and National Honor societies, President of the Fellowship of Christian Artists organization and a community servant with her church. Webber also helped lead the charge to save the orchestra budget at her school.
Webber is bound for the University of Memphis and plans to double major in violin performance and international studies.
“I didn’t know what was going on with me…I just thought it was random panic attacks, but this year I found out that I basically got anxiety.”
Rachel Register says anxiety made it difficult for her to attend a traditional “brick and mortar” school. It’s why she made the decision to transition into Duval Virtual Instructional Academy her senior year – a move she says changed everything. Thanks to the supportive teachers and staff, Rachel says shes’s improving, and is learning to cope with anxiety.
Rachel will be attending Florida State College at Jacksonville with plans to be part of the paralegal studies program.
“Being class president, you have to advocate. You have to be passionate about what you do…you have to fight.”
For Logan Terrell, serving as the Senior Class President at Ed White High School has been nothing short of rewarding. But in the face of the COVID, the senior says she had to step up like never before, encouraging her peers to remain motivated and encouraged through the pandemic. Watch to learn more about the challenges Terrell says Ed White’s senior class has faced, and overcome, this school year.
Following graduation, Terrell has plans to attend Louisiana State University and study microbiology and dermatology.
“After everything I’ve gone through so far in my life, and with all the struggles and obstacles, I’ve been through…I feel proud making it this far.”
Being diagnosed with ADHD, Nick Ramos says he struggled a lot in school. Reading and staying focused on his school works were difficult. But the Englewood graduate said he never gave up on himself, and with the support of his family, he was able to earn his highest academic achievement this year…earning four A-grades consecutively.
“His last four years are evidence that students who struggle to adjust to high school and learn differently than some of their peers are absolutely capable of success and greatness,” said Englewood principal, Sarah Bravo.
Describing him as kind, respectful, and funny, Bravo said that Ramos is a “walking example of defying the odds.
Ramos says his dream to become a video game developer. He is heading to Florida State College of Jacksonville in the fall, and hopes to later attend Full Sail University.
“It’s finally our time to take on the world!”
An active student leader at First Coast High School, Ann Jernigan exhibits Buc pride in that she does. This includes Varsity Cheer, Varsity Tennis, Varsity Girls Golf, Slow pitch softball, Theater, Hispanic Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society, Spanish Club, Physics Club, Mu Alpha Theta, and the National Honor Society.
Jernigan says she and her fellow Class of 2020 peers are ready to tackle this next season in their lives. Listen as she rallies her classmates to not be defeated by recent challenges, but instead, become stronger and embrace a new start.
“I just remember walking in and getting my class schedule, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what A Hall is and I don’t know where the portables are, but I have to go from one to the other in five minutes.”
Elizabeth Weaver laughs as she remembers trying to navigate Fletcher’s hallways once upon a time ago when she was a freshman.
Now as a graduating senior, Weaver says it’s been an incredible four years. She became a four-time All-American cheerleader, varsity cheer captain, vice president of the French Honor Society and member of the National Honor Society. The friendships she made at school form her greatest memories, but also her saddest. In Weaver’s junior year, one of her close friends was killed in a car accident. The experience and the grief was difficult to endure, says Weaver, but she believes it brought her and her peers closer together.
Weaver said she is proud of her friends and classmates for all they have overcome. She is headed to the University of South Florida to major in biomedical sciences.
“Being able to say I finished, I was there, is amazing”
Tamara Sonera remembers looking around Frank H. Peterson’s sprawling campus, feeling intimidated and wondering “I don’t know if I can do this.”
Cut to now, the active student leader is about to graduate with not just her high school diploma, but a Child Development Associate credential degree she earned during her time at Peterson. While in school, she was also part of the Family Career Community Leaders of America, student council and student government.
Sonera — who will be the first member of her family to attend college — is headed to Florida State University to major in elementary education. Her words of wisdom to her peers:
“Although things in life change, and our paths may see confusing…go with what our hearts say.”
Gabrielle Grant says to serve as Miss Robert E. Lee during her senior year of high school was nothing short of a dream come true. It was, after all, a dream she held for years.
“It really felt amazing because I’ve always wanted to be Miss Lee since like the 8th grade,” she says. “Knowing that all my hard work paid off at the end was just the best moment ever.”
But for Gabrielle, it wasn’t about the glitz and glamour. She used her platform to create a new organization – My Sister’s Keeper – to help mentor 9th grade girls, as well as lead them in community service.
Gabrielle says she looks forward to attending Savannah State University in the fall and will major in Marine Science.
Whether it was being president of her school’s theater troupe or serving as Miss Mandarin Mandarin, senior Skyler Geer says her goal these last four years was to make a difference – and to do so fearlessly.
“If I could tell my freshman-year self anything, it would be, you’re here for a reason. You belong,” says Skyler. “Use every moment that you possibly can, and don’t waste it on second-guessing yourself.”
Thanks to that mindset, Sklyer says she graduates Mandarin High a changed person. Skyler plans to attend Appalachian State University and will double major in theater and anthropology.
“From my experience, to know where she was from birth and to see where she is now.. it’s just excitement!”
Ruth Banks says watching her granddaughter, Shantrell Beaufort, triumph over her disability has been exciting. Born with cerebral palsy, Beaufort has encountered numerous medical obstacles, most recently at the beginning of this year. She was hospitalized with pneumonia and a collapsed lung, and underwent surgery for a tracheotomy.
Through it all — and with much support from her medical physicians — Banks says Beaufort was able to persevere. Her school leaders at Mount Herman agree. They nominated Beaufort to be featured because of how much has overcome. They say the soon-to-be graduate is preparing and looking forward to the next journey of her life.
From the passing of her mother, to moving to another state, and to overcoming anxiety. There’s no doubt that Mariana Malave has faced a lot. But ask this Palm Avenue Exceptional Student Center senior what’s helped her push through these challenges, and she’ll point to a strong support system.
“Making sure that I do okay, and putting forth all of their effort just so I can achieve my goals, and achieve all my dreams, and live my life to the fullest,” she says.
Thanks to the guidance of her family and Palm Avenue teachers and staff, Mariana hopes to one day pursue a career. Watch to learn more about Mariana’s accomplishments, hear what advice she has to offer to her peers.
A “transformative experience.” It’s how senior Hanna Frampton describes her last four years as a student and leader at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. Whether it was being an active member of the school’s award-winning chorus, serving as a class officer, or mentoring younger students, Hanna says she takes nothing but positive experiences and important life lessons into the next chapter of her life.
“If you keep the lessons that you’ve learned and the things that you’ve picked up along the way, you will be more than successful at life, and you’ll be more than successful at the thing that you want to do,” she says.
Hanna has plans to attend Rice University in Houston, Texas and will major in Voice Performance.
“In middle school I was valedictorian as well…but in high school it’s a different ballgame!”
Ask graduating senior Ga’Shanti Bright about her biggest accomplishment, and she’ll quickly tell you it was becoming valedictorian at William M. Raines High School. But achieving the number one spot isn’t this senior’s only point of pride.
Listen as Bright shares how Raines has increased her confidence and prepared her for her future – which includes attending the University of Florida on a full scholarship to study philosophy.
Ribault High School senior Ja’Miyah Levy knows what it’s like to walk through adversity. With her father behind bars and as the oldest of eight siblings, she knew that remaining focused on her education would be the key to her success.
“I was able to push through adversity by not losing sight of what’s important to me,” she says.
Ja’Miyah is also overcoming another challenge – the recent discovery of an eye ulcer impacting her vision. But regardless of what Levy has faced, she’s not giving up. She’s not only graduating as the valedictorian, but she also plans to attend Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and will major in Political Science.
“I was skipping school, I wasn’t going to classes. I just didn’t care.”
Chayce Searcy will be the first to admit he made a lot of mistakes going into his senior year. So much so, he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to graduate. But all of that changed the day that Sandalwood High School leadership staged an intervention, pointing him to a better way.
Today, Searcy is set to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. Watch this video to learn more about his turnaround, and his future aspirations.
“I can’t give up on myself.”
For Linggeng Kong, a Stanton student originally from China, the road to graduation hasn’t been easy. After undergoing surgery for a brain tumor in 2015, Kong moved to America with his parents to seek additional medical care.
Despite going through chemotherapy and physical therapy, Kong never gave up. Thanks to the support of his family, friends, doctors, and Stanton College Preparatory family – Kong’s future is bright. He plans to attend the University of Alabama, and has been inspired to become a doctor.
“When I didn’t believe in myself, they believed in me.”
Stefani Jurisic says if it weren’t for the belief Terry Parker teachers and principal had in her, she’s not sure where she would be. Whether it was participating in the school’s IB program for four years, or being a student athlete, Stefani says juggling it all was challenging. But in the end, she says she wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, and is especially grateful to graduate as a Terry Parker Brave.
Jurisic plans to attend the University of North Florida to study international relations.
Not many students can say they’ve been offered over $100,000 in scholarships. But Westside High School valedictorian Ronesha Collier is an exception – and she says it’s the result of relentless dedication.
“I know that all the hard work I put in, all those sleepless nights, they’ll all pay off in the end,” she says.
Perhaps what makes this feat more impressive is that Ronesha has always juggled a busy schedule, which included participating in several sports, Dual Enrollment, working, and caring for several younger siblings. Ronesha plans to attend Florida State University and study psychology.
“I want to walk across that stage. I want to get my diploma. That’s going to be the moment I can finally say, ‘I did it!'”
Cameron Frison’s high school career has been full of achievements, but it wasn’t easy.
Among his proudest accomplishments — other than being nominated as a top academic senior athlete and reaching his 100th wrestling win — is getting through Wolfson’s rigorous IB program. Frison said it was with support of his mom and his faith that he was able to make it through.
Frison, who was a member of the National Honor Society, Student Ambassadors, Senior Fellows, and the wrestling team, is now ready for his next challenge…starting college as a freshman at Florida Atlantic University in South Florida.